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Hk.nkv May hew 





(which was first published in 1851) 



i D « /* $ jj 


FEB 12 1970 





Published by 


T 732 



The Street Folk 

The Number of Costermongers and Other Street Folk 

The Varieties of Street Folk 

Coster monger ing Mechanics 

The London Street Markets on a Saturday Night 

The Sunday Morning Markets 
■ Habits and Amusements of Costermongers 
- Gambling of Costermongers 

' Vic Gallery' 

The Politics of Costermongers 
~- Marriage and Concubinage of Costermongers . 

Religion of Costermongers 

The Uneducated State of Costermongers 

Language of the Costermongers 

Nicknames of Costermongers 
^Education of the Costermongers' Children 

Literature of the Costermongers 

Honesty of the Costermongers 

Conveyances of tlie Costermongers 

The 'Smithfield Races' 

The Donkeys of the Costermongers 

The Costermongers' Capital 

The 'Slang' Weights and Measures . . 

The Boys of the Costermongers and their Bunts 

Education of the 'Coster-lads' 

The Life of a Coster-lad 

The 'Penny Gaff 

The Coster Girls 































The Life of a Coster Girl . . 

Dress of the Coster mongers . . 

Diet and Drink of Costermongers 

Cries and Rounds of Costermongers 

Earnings of Costermongers . . 

The Tricks of Costermongers 

Street-sellers of Fish 

Covent Garden Market 

The Orange and Nut Market 

Orange and Lemon Selling in the Streets 

Street-sellers of Green Stuff 

Eatables and Drinkables 

Pea-soup and Hot Eels 

Pickled Whelks 

Fried Fish 
The Experience of a Fried Fish-seller 
The Preparation of Sheep's Trotters . . 
The Street Trade in Baked Potatoes . . 
'Trotting 1 or 'Hawking' Butchers 
Street-sellers of Ham Sandwiches 


Hot Green Peas 
Cats'- and Dogs' -meat Dealers 
Street sale of Drinkables 
Coffee-stall Keepers 

Street sale of Ginger Beer, Sherbet, Lemonade 
Street-sellers of Hot Elder Wine 
Milk Selling in St James's Park 
Street sale of Milk 
Street sale of Curds and Whey 
Street-sellers of Rice-milk 


Street-sellers of Pastry and Confectionary 

Street Piemen 

Street-sellers of Boiled Puddings 

Plum 'Duff' or Dough 

Cakes, Tarts 


Hot-cross Buns and Chelsea Buns 
Muffin and Crumpet -selling 
Street-sale of Sweet-stuff 
Street- sellers of Cough Drops 

Ices and Ice Creams 

Stationery, Literature and Fine Arts 
The Former and Present Street-patterers 
The Habits, etc., of Patterers Generally 
The Chaunters 
Political Litanies, Dialogues 

\yOCfCS , CvC. •• • • ■• •• 

The Low Lodging-houses of London 

Their Filth, Dishonesty and Immorality 

'Screevers' or Writers of Begging Letters and Petitions 

The Street-sellers of Manufactured Articles 

Street-sellers of Manufactured Articles in Metal 

The Cheap Johns, or Street Hansellers 

The Crippled Street-seller of Nutmeg -graters . . 

Swag-shops of the Metropolis 

Street-sellers of Cutlery 

The Blind Street -sellers of Tailors' Needles 

The Public-house Hawkers of Metal Spoons . . 

The Beggar Street -sellers 

Haberdashery Swag-shops 

Statement of a Packman 

Of the Tally Packman 




























169 — 







Street-sellers of Corn-salve 

Crackers and Detonating Balls 

Cigar Lights, or Fuzees 

Gutta-percha Heads 

Fly-papers and Beetle-wafers . . 

Walking-sticks, Whips, etc. 

Pipes, and of Snuff and Tobacco Boxes 




Spectacles and Eye-glasses 


Poison for Rats 
Hawking of Tea 
Street-sellers of Second-hand Metal Articles 

Second-hand Musical Instruments 
Music 'Duffers' 
Street-sellers of Second-hand Weapons 

Second-hand Curiosities 

Second-hand Telescopes and Pocket Glasses 

Other Second-hand Articles 
Second-hand Store Shops 
Street-sellers of Second-hand Apparel 
The Old Clothes Exchange 

The Wholesale Business at the Old Clothes Exchange 
The Street-sellers of Petticoat and Rosemary -Lanes 

The Street-sellers of Men's Second-hand Clothes 
The Second-hand Sellers of Smith field Market . . 
Street-sellers of Live Animals 
The 'Finders' Stealers and Restorers of Dogs . . 
A Dog-' Finder — a 'Lurker's' Career 


The Present Street-sellers of Dogs 
Street-sellers of Sporting Dogs 

Live Birds 
The Bird-catchers Who are Street-sellers 
Street-sellers of Birds' -nests 

Gold and Silver Fish 

Mineral Productions 



The River Beer-sellers or Purl-men 
' The Street-buyers . . 

, Street-buyers of Rags, Bottles and Bones 
* The 'Rag-and-BottW and the Marine-store Shops 
The Buyers of Kitchen-stuff, Grease and Dripping 
Street-buyers of Hare and Rabbit Skins 
The Street-Jews 

Trades and Localities of the Street-Jews 
The Jew Old-clothes Men 
A Jew Street-seller 
The Jew-boy Street-sellers 
Their Pursuits, Dwellings and Traffic 
The Street Jewesses and Street Jew-girls 
The Street-finders or Collectors 
Bone-grubbers and Rag-gatherers 
The 'Pure-' finders 
The Cigar-end Finders 
The Old Wood GatJierers . . 
The Dredgers or River Finders 
The Scwer-huntcr* 
The Mud-larks 
The Dustmen of London 



The London Sewerage and Scavengery 

Statement of a 'Regular Scavenger' 

General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-sweepers 

The Subterranean Character of the Sewers 

The Rats in the Sewers 

Crossing- Sweepers 

Able-bodied Male Crossing-sweepers 

The 'Aristocratic' Crossing -sweeper 

The Bearded Crossing -sweeper at the Exchange 

The Sweeper in Portland Square 

A Regent-Street Crossing-sweeper 

A Tradesman's Crossing -sweeper 

Able-bodied Female Crossing-sweepers 

An old Woman 

The Crossing-sweeper who had been a Servant-maid 

The Occasional Crossing -sweepers 

The Sunday Crossing -sweeper 

The Afflicted Crossing -sweepers 

One-legged Sweeper at Chancery-lane 

The most severely afflicted of all the Crossing-sweepers 

The Negro Crossing -sweeper, who had lost both his legs 

Juvenile Crossing -sweepers 

Boy Crossing-sweepers and Tumblers 

Young Mike's Statement 

Gander — The 'Captain' of the Boy Crossing -sweepers 

The 'King' of the Tumbling-boy Crossing -sweepers 

The Street where the Boy-sweepers lodged 

The Boy-sweeper's Room 

The Girl Crossing-sweeper sent out by her Father 

Girl Crossing-sweeper 

The Rat-killer 

A night at Rat-killing 


Jack Black 

Her Majesty's Bug -destroyer 

The Fantoccini Man 
\ Guy Fawkeses 

V Exhibitor of Mechanical Figures 
N The Telescope Exhibitor 
v Peep-shows 

I Acrobat, or Street-posturer 
The Strong Man 
The Street-juggler 
' The Street-conjurer 

I The Snake, Sword and Knife Swalloiver 
I Street-clown 

The Penny -gaff Clown 
The Penny Circus Jester 
Silly Billy 
Ballet Performers 

The Tight-rope Dancers and Stilt-vaulters 
Street Reciter 
\ Street Musicians: 

'Old Sarah' . . 

'Farmyard' Player 

Blind Scotch Violoncello Player 

The English Street Bands 

The German Street Bands 

Scotch Piper and Dancing-girl 

French Hurdy-gurdy Player 

Poor Harp Player 

Organ Man with Flute Hartnonico 

The Dancing Dogs 

Performer on Drum and Pipes 




































Street Vocalists: 


Street Negro Serenaders 


Street Ballad-singers or C haunters 


Street Artists: 


Street Photography 


Tlie Penny Profile-cutter 


Writer without Hands 


Chalker on Flag-stones 


Exhibitors of Trained Animals: 


The Happy Family Exhibitor 


Exhibitor of Birds and Mice 


Skilled and Unskilled Labour: 


The 'Garret-masters' 


The Doll's -eye Maker 


The Coal-heavers 


The Coal-backers 


The Ballast-getters 


The Ballast-lightermen 


The Ballast -heavers 




The Dock Labourers 


The London Dock 


Cheap Lodging-houses 


London Watermen, Lightermen and Steamboa 

[-men 577 

The Thames Watermen 


The Lightermen and Bargemen 


Omnibus Projnietors 


Omnibus Drivers 


Omnibus Conductors 


Omnibus Timekeepers 


Hackney-coach and, cabmen 


Character of Cabdrivers 




Frontispiece: Henry Mayhew 

The London Costermonger page 35 

The Irish Street-seller 36 

The Baked Potato Man 69 

The London Coffee Stall 70 

The Coster Boy and Girl Tossing the Pieman 133 

Long-song Seller 134 

'The Kitchen', Fox-court, Gray's-Innlane 165 
The Street-seller of Grease-Removing Composition 166 

Street-seller of Birds'-nests 231 

Scene in Petticoat-lane 232 

The Jew Old-clothes Man 263 

The Mud-Lark 264 

The London Dustman 331 

The London Sweep 332 

View of a Dust Yard 363 

The London Scavenger 364 

The Ratcatchers of the Sewers 429 

The Boy Crossing-Sweepers 430 

Ratting — 'The Graham Arms', Graham Street 463 

Jack Black, Her Majesti's Ratcatcher 464 

Cab Driver 529 

Photographic Saloon, East End of London 530 

'Old Sarah', the Hurdy-Gurdy Player 561 

A Dinner at a Cheap Lodging-House 562 



During the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ, the ordered 
landscape of the Roman world suffered a process of transformation, 
no doubt gradual in its development but, as regards its ultimate 
effects, certainly disastrous. The imperial system was slowly break- 
ing up; and, while the great landowners withdrew to remote 
fortified demesnes (where, if they were originally of Roman descent, 
they soon took on the manners and costume of outlandish barbari- 
an neighbours), the huge open cities, which had expanded under 
the sun of pax romana, with their libraries and their baths, their 
market places and their temples, shrank into smaller and meaner 
compass, behind massive walls often constructed from the debris 
of demolished shrines and palaces. Aqueducts had been breached, 
flooding the farm-lands: as travel grew more dangerous, the post- 
roads were neglected. Fugitives thronged into the safer townships: 
the mediaeval city began to appear, picturesque, squalid and 
overcrowded, with its girdle of crenellated ramparts, its narrow, 
tortuous streets, its confusion and its poverty. 

For more than a thousand years, almost up to the dawn of the 
Industrial Revolution, most European cities belonged to the Middle 
Ages, both in their design and in their outlook. Many of them 
preserved their gates and walls; and through the gates a citizen 
could walk without hindrance into the unpolluted countryside. As 
late as the opening of the nineteenth century, Londoners, though 
they might grumble at the stink and congestion and noise of their 
immense metropolis, were never far separated from country sights 
and sounds. Three windmills could be viewed from the Strand; 
and even the most sedentary inhabitant of the thoroughfares 
between Oxford Street and Piccadilly had only to stroll west 
beyond Hyde Park Corner, or northwards through the fields behind 
Portland Place, to lose himself in some rambling lane among 
meadows and market-gardens. But already the speculators were 
hard at work; wave3 of brick advanced upon farm and garden; 
Cockney terraces and squares and crescents sprang up with bewil- 
dering rapidity on London's urban outskirts, filling the green space 

18 Mayhew^s London 

between the nucleus of the city and its small surrounding villages. 
A new type of city was being born: a new civilization was emerging, 
from which would spring a potent and incalculable force in modern 
European literature. 

Henceforward, the majority of writers, by necessity or habit, 
would be first and foremost city-dwellers; and urban life would 
give their work a very definite, at times harsh, but extremely 
individual colouring. They would love the city as much as they 
hated it. Among French writers we think immediately of Charles 
Baudelaire, whose imagination was deeply stirred by the spectacle 
of mid-nineteenth century Paris, in which the ancient and intimate 
metropolis of his boyhood was dissolving and disappearing; and, on 
this side of the English Channel, London was at once the nursery 
and the forcing-house of Charles Dickens's utterly dissimilar and 
completely Anglo-Saxon genius. Though it may be wrong to assert 
that, without London, there would have been no Dickens, it is 
undoubtedly true that, had he been brought up in any other city 
or any other period, his novels would have lost something of their 
peculiar strangeness. Eighteenth-century London was still small 
enough to be compact and personal; its industries were localized; 
the structure of its social life was relatively uncomplicated. During 
Dickens's lifetime, however, a tremendous influx of population 
brought with it a corresponding loss of freedom, health and dignity. 
The individual was submerged in the mass of anonymous toilers, 
whose whole world was circumscribed by the bricks-and-mortar of 
whatever nook or cranny they had been shoved into by circum- 
stance. From the ranks of these little people, these waifs and oddities 
and misfits, human rubbish thrown up by the struggle for existence 
conducted on principles of economic laissez faire, the novelist drew 
the raw material of those fascinating minor personages who consti- 
tute the all-important background of any Dickens story — the 
creepers and the climbers, the grovellers and the schemers, scramb- 
ling over one another in the dark confusion of their pestiferous 
urban ant's-nest. 

With every decade their number increased. During the first 
thirty years of the century the population of the Greater London 
area rose from 865,000 to 1,500,000; and in the next twenty years 
another million inhabitants were somehow piled in. They were 
housed (writes a contributor to that valuable compilation, Early 

Mayhem's London 1 9 

Victorian England) 'by overcrowding, and by lateral expansion in 
houses, mainly two-storied, built on estates it was desired to devel- 
op, and ribboned along roads. That is why, in the Pickwick 
Papers, Mr. Wicks, of Dodson and Fogg's, found it was "half past 
four before he got to Somers Town" after a convivial evening... 
and Mr. Jaggers cultivated the family affections behind a ditch in 
Walworth.' As the population thickened, so did its occupations 
grow more and more miscellaneous, its character more amorphous. 
Parasites fastened on parasites; the refuse and leavings of one class 
helped, literally as well as figuratively, to provide a means of 
livelihood for the class immediately beneath it; and, while the poor 
but 'respectable' members of commercial society, the clerks and 
small employees, tended to gravitate towards pretentious gimcrack 
suburbs pullulating uncontrolled upon London's shabby outer 
edge, the lowest and weakest of its citizens, the scavengers, rag- 
pickers and pedlars, drifted into its noisome central slums, into 
one or other of the many 'rookeries', clusters of dilapidated ancient 
houses — such as 'Tom All Alone's,' under the shadow of West- 
minster Abbey, scathingly described as Bleak House. 

The first chapters of that novel — together with Our Mutual 
Friend, probably Dickens's most ambitious attempt to delineate the 
London landscape — were published in periodical form during the 
Spring of 1852. But the public conscience was already aroused, for 
the Victorian Age, in spite of its numerous detractors, was neither 
self-complacent nor insensitive; and throughout the 'thirties and 
'forties repeated plans had been made for the delivery of at least a 
preliminary attack on the gigantic Augean stable that London, at 
its then rate of development, was in danger of becoming. There 
were sanitary commissions, inquests on water-supply, while a vast 
and compendious Report on the Sanitary Condition of the City of 
London for the years 1848-49 provoked the indignation and excited 
the alarm of every thoughtful Londoner. Though 'rookeries' still 
bred disease, their existence was threatened, if not by the moral 
scruples of the English upper classes, at all events by the practical 
necessity of opening up new thoroughfares; and, to clear the ap- 
proaches to New London Bridge, a million and a half pounds' worth 
of old property had been purchased and demolished. The spirit 
of reform and philanthropy was omnipresent; and by a singular stroke 
of good fortune an enterprising philanthropist of the period hap- 

20 Mayhew *s London 

pened at the same time to be an extremely able journalist. Two 
volumes of articles, which had originally appeared in the London 
daily press, were collected by their author, Henry Mayhew, and 
published under the title London Labour & the London Poor 
in 1851. 

Considering the scope of his works on London and the remarkable 
quality of their content, it seems odd that Mayhew's name should 
be so little known to the ordinary modern reader. On the career 
of this gifted and industrious man the Dictionary of National Bio- 
graphy is concise and informative but somewhat unenthusiastic. 
Born in 1812, the son of a London attorney, he survived till 1887, 
dying at a house in Charlotte Street, to which, so far as the present 
writer is aware, the London County Council has not yet contem- 
plated attaching its commemorative blue tab. His activities during 
that time were numerous and varied. He began his working-life as a 
dramatist, his first production being a one-act play entitled 'The 
Wandering Minstrel' in which he introduced the celebrated 
Cockney song, 'Villikins and his Dinah', and was the author of 
many other successful comedies and farces. As a middle-aged 
journalist, he attended at the birth of Punch, of which for a while 
he acted as joint-editor; and, in addition to his dramatic, journal- 
istic and philanthropic efforts, he found time to turn out travel- 
books, biographies, novels and stories and treatises on popular 
science. The bulk of his work was ephemeral; but there can be no 
doubt that London Labour & The London Poor, reissued in 1861, 
18C2, 1864 and 1865 with copious additions and supplementary 
volumes, is an achievement that deserves the respectful attention 
of posterity. Not only was Mayhew a pioneer in this particular 
type of sociological record but, thanks to the original cast of his 
mind and to his extraordinary gifts both as an observer and as a 
reporter, he left behind him a book that one need not be a student 
of history or a sociologist to find immensely entertaining. 

The plan is ambitious. Disregarding the strongholds of wealth 
and privilege, Mayhew's intention was to plumb to its depths the 
dark ocean of poverty or semi-poverty by which they were encirc- 
led, to discover how the poor lived — the hopelessly poor, as well as 
the depressed and struggling — and to examine the means, ignoble 
and commendable, furtive and above-board, by which the majority 
of London's unorganized millions precariously scraped a livelihood. 

Mayhem's London 


Had he been exclusively concerned with economics, Mayhew's 
magnum opus might make useful but tedious reading. In fact, his 
interests were many-sided; and no less than three persons appear 
and re-appear as we turn the pages of his survey. First, there is the 
impassioned Statis tician; but in this guise, it must be admitted, 
Mayhew with the best intentions in the world is often slightly 
ludicrous. He loved figures for their own sake, and welcomed every 
opportunity of drawing up vast ingenious tables, all of which, 
for the sake of brevity and clarity, have been omitted from this 
reprint. A single specimen may be sufficient. Mayhew is engaged 
in an enjoyable tussle with the problem of London street-cleaning 
and street-cleaners, evidently a subject he found extremely stimu- 
lating; and, besides classifying the sweepers themselves, analyzing 
their economic position and depicting their personal habits, he 
catalogues the different types of refuse that befoul the London 




Weight in 
a fresh 
stato in 


Weight in 
a fresh 
state in 

Weight in 
a fresh 
state in 


Weight in 
a fresh 
state in 


Water . . 




lb. oz. 


6 1 




lb. oz. 

38 2 

3 7 

Total . . 



Total . . 



Nor is the above table allowed to speak for itself. Mayhew follows 
it up with the results of an investigation into the metabolic pro- 
cesses of a 'Brown horse of middle Hize', conducted at the Royal 
Veterinary College on Soptomber 2i)th, 1849, and goes on to 
discuss the trouble caused to London street-cleaners by the passage 
through the streets of horned cattle, oalves, sheep and pigs, till the 

22 Mayhew's London 

reader, overwhelmed and exhausted, has squeamishly pulled out 
his handkerchief. 

Luckily, another aspect of Mayhew's personality is very soon in 
evidence. As the philanthropic Social Investigator, he feels a deep 
concern with the material needs and financial~vicissitudes of his 
fellow human beings. He is intensely preoccupied with the lives of 
others; and no detail is so trifling that it can slip through the meshes 
of his inquisitorial drag-net. We are informed, for example, that a 
working scavenger of the 'fifties, having earned fifteen shillings by 
his week's labour, had spent, in the instance selected, the sum of 
exactly thirteen shillings and twopence- farthing — one-and-nine- 
pence being the rent of an unfurnished room, sevenpence going on 
tobacco, two-and-fourpence on beer, one-and-a-penny on gin, a 
penny-three-farthings on pickles or onions, and two-and-fourpence 
on boiled salt beef. A journeyman sweeper was maintained by his 
master at the cost of approximately sixpence-half-penny. His week- 
day diet was as follows: 

s. d. 

Bread and butter and coffee for breakfast . . . . 2 

A saveloy and potatoes, or cabbage; or a 'fagot', 

with the same vegetables; or fried fish (but not 

often); or pudding, from a pudding-shop; or soup 

(a two-penny plate) from a cheap eating-house; 

average from 2d. to 3d. 2£ 

Tea, same as breakfast 2 

But we learn, with relief, that 'on Sundays the fare was better. 
They then sometimes had a bit of "prime fat mutton taken to the 
oven, with 'taturs to bake along with it"; or a "fry of liver, if the old 
'oman was in a good humour", and always a pint of beer apiece.' 
But Londoners had not only to be fed; they must also be clothed; 
and in certain callings a decent appearance must be carefully 
kept up: 

'A prosperous and respectable master green-grocer (writes 
Mayhew), who was what may be called "particular" in his dress, as 
he had been a gentleman's servant, and was now in the habit of 
waiting upon the wealthy persons in his neighbourhood, told me 
that the following was the average of his washing bill. He was a 
bachelor; all his washing was put out, and he considered his expen- 
diture far above the average of his class, as many used no night- 
shirt, but slept in the shirt they wore during the day, and paid 

Mayhew's London 2 3 

only 3d., and even less, per shirt to their washer- woman, and 
perhaps, and more especially in winter, made one shirt last the 

s. d. 

Two shirts (per week) 7 

Stockings 1 

Night-shirt (worn two weeks generally, average per 

week) Of 

Sheets, blankets, and other household linens or 

woollens 2 

Handkerchiefs 0^ 

11 ' 

These extracts (two of which we have been obliged to omit 
from the present abridged edition of London Labour) have been 
chosen more or less at random, but may serve to illustrate the 
meticulous humanity with which Mayhew pursued his subject. 
And now a further facet of his character emerges. It would be 
presumptuous, no doubt, to call him the nineteenth-century Defoe; 
but, if he had none of Defoe's imaginative genius, he had the same 
devotion to the literal fact, the same grasp of detail and the same 
observant eye, that makes Defoe the most poetic of the great 
European realists. Mayhew's notes on economic conditions were 
accompanied by brilliant portraits of individual men and women. 
One would like to know what were his methods of work. This 
Victorian Mass-Observer would appear to have spent long hours of 
conversation in attics, pubs and back-streets, asking innumerable 
questions and patiently noting down the answers. Here he reveals 
his third facet — perhaps the most important — the dispassionate 
TJ. te.rary P ortrai tist, who bore some resemblance both to Daniel 
Defoe and to Restif de la Bretonne. Like them he browsed and 
botanised; but he had a knack of recording living speech which 
was peculiarly characteristic of the period he lived in. Take, for 
instance, this speech by an old soldier: 

'I'm 42 now (he said), and when I was a boy and a young man 
I was employed in the Times machine office, but got into a bit of 
a row — a bit of a street quarrel and frolic, and was called on to pay 
£ 3, something about a street-lamp; that was out of the quostion; 
and as I was taking a walk in the park, not just knowing what I'd 
best do, I met a recruiting sergeant, and enlisted on a sudden all on 
a suddon — in the 16th Lancers.. . . Well, I was rather frolicsome in 
those days, I confess, and perhaps had rattier a turn for a roving life, 

24 Mayhew's London 

so when the sergeant said he'd take me to the East India Company's 
recruiting sergeant, I consented, and was accepted at once. I was 
taken to Calcutta, and served under General Nott all through the 
Affghan war. The first real warm work I was in was at Candahar. 
I've heard young soldiers say that they've gone into action the first 
time as merry as they would go to a play. Don't believe them, Sir. 
Old soldiers will tell you quite different. You must feel queer and 
serious the first time you're in action; it's not fear — it's nervousness. 
The crack of the muskets at the first fire you hear in real hard earnest 
is uncommon startling; you see the flash of the fire from the enemy's 
line, but very little else. Indeed, oft enough you see nothing but smoke, 
and hear nothing but balls whistling every side of you. And then you 
get excited, just as if you were at a hunt; but after a little service — I 
can speak for myself, at any rate — you go into action as you go to 
your dinner.' 

'Something about a street-lamp' — how admirable the phrase is! 
Mayhew's pages are illuminated, again and again, by these sudden 
vivid flashes in which the essentials of a situation or character — 
here the headstrong young man on a spree; the tinkle of broken 
glass; the mood of exhilaration passing into the mood of angry 
desperation during which he meets the sergeant — seem concisely 
summed up. As memorable are his impressions of interiors; for 
his omnivorous curiosity was not confined to street-life; and, bound 
on a visit to an impoverished coster-monger, he had climbed a 
flight of tottering and broken stairs, and entered a room thick with 
smoke that was pouring from the chimney: 

'The place was filled with it, curling in the light, and making every- 
thing so indistinct that I could with difficulty see the white mugs 
ranged in the corner-cupboard. . . . On a mattress, on the floor, lay 
a pale-faced girl — "eighteen years old last twelfth-cake day" — her 
drawn-up form showing in the patch-work counterpane that covered 
her. She had just been confined, and the child had died! . . . . To shield 
her from the light of the window, a cloak had been fastened up slant- 
ingly across the panes; and on a string that ran along the wall was 
tied, amongst the bonnets, a clean nightcap — "against the doctor 
came", as the mother, curtsying, informed me.... The room was 
about nine feet square and furnished a homo for three women. The 
ceiling slanted like that of a garret, and was the oolour of old leather, 
excepting a few rough while patches, where the tenants had rudoly 
mended it. The white light was easily seen through the laths, and in 
one corner a largo patch of the paper looped down from the wall. . . . 
They had made a carpet out of three or four old mats. They were 
"obligated to it for fear of dropping anything through the boards 
into tho donkey stables in the parlour underneath. But wo only pay 
ninoponce a wook rent", said tho old woman, "and musn't grumble".' 

Mayhew's London 25 

Mayhew's impressions, however, are not of gloom unmitigated 
or poverty unrelieved; and many have the cheerfulness and dis- 
tinction of a Dutch or Flemish genre picture. He describes, for 
example, his visit to the home of a thriving coster-monger, where 
'the floor was as white as if it had been newly planed', and 'the 
wall over the fire-place was patched up to the ceiling with little 
square pictures of saints. . . . On the mantel-piece, between a 
row of bright tumblers and wine glasses filled with odds and ends, 
stood glazed crockeryware images of Prince Albert and M. Jullien. 
... In the band-box, which stood on the stained chest of drawers, 
you could tell that the Sunday bonnet was stowed away safely 
from the dust.' Even the room occupied by a family of struggling 
costers was not entirely squalid: 

'The man, a tall, thick-built, almost good-looking fellow, with a large 
fur cap on his head, lived with his family in a front kitchen, and as 
there were, with his mother-in-law, five persons, and only one bed, 
I was somewhat puzzled to know where they could all sleep. The 
barrow standing on the railings over the window, half shut out the 
light, and when any one passed there was a momentary shadow 
thrown over the room, and a loud rattling of the iron gratings above 
that completely prevented all conversation. When I entered, the 
mother-in-law was reading aloud one of the threepenny papers to her 
son, who lolled on the bed, that with its curtains nearly filled the 
room. There was the usual attempt to make the fireside comfortable. 
The stone sides had been well whitened, and the mantel-piece deco- 
rated with its small tin trays, tumblers, and a piece of looking-glass. 
A cat with hor kittens were seated on the hearth-rug in front. . . . By 
tho drawers were piled up four bushel baskets, and in a dark corner 
near the bed stood a tall measure full of apples that scented the 
room. . . . On a string dangled a couplo of newly washed shirts, and 
by the window were two stone barrels, for lemonade, when tho coster 
visited the fairs and races.' 

Still more vivid, in its extremely Dickensian way, is Mayhew's 
account of his meeting with Jack Black, 'Rat and mole destroyer 
to Her Majesty', whom he discovered at his house in Battersea, 
and whose expression radiated a kindliness that did not 'exactly 
agree with one's preconceived notions of rat-catchers. His face had 
a strange appearance, from his rough, uncombed hair being nearly 
grey, and his eyebrows and whiskers black, so that ho looked as if 
he wore powder'. He, too, lived surrounded by the apparatus 
of his daily work — he was, incidentally, taxidermist and bird- 

26 May hew' s London 

fancier as well as rat-catcher; his parlour was 'more like a shop 
than a family apartment. In a box ... like a rabbit-hutch, was a 
white ferret, twisting its long thin body with a snake-like motion 
up and down the length of its prison, as restlessly as if it were a 
miniature polar bear. When Mr. Black called "Polly" to the ferret, 
it came to the bars and fixed its pink eyes on him. A child lying on 
the floor poked its fingers into the cage, but Polly only smelt at 
them ...' 

Nothing is more remarkable about Mayhew's book than the 
fantastic diversity of trades and occupations that came beneath his 
survey. Besides street- sellers innumerable, vending every kind of 
object from nutmeg-graters and tracts to dogs and birds '-nests, 
there were (in addition to sweepers and scavengers) a considerable 
class of 'finders' who existed, from hand to mouth, on the material 
they picked up. In the first class — the itinerant street-merchants — 
the London coster-mongers were probably the most vigorous and 
independent. They had their own dress, which Mayhew describes 
at length, their own public-houses and slang and round of social 
gaieties: they patronised 'the Vic Gallery', frequented 'two-penny 
hops', were fond of gambling, singing, fighting but, in spite of 
brutal and pugnacious habits, were devoted to their donkeys. 
Such were the chivalry of London back-streets. On a lower level — 
physically and morally, if not always financially — was the section 
of the populace that dealt in London's ordures. This section was 
sharply subdivided. At one end of the scale were 'mud-larks' 
and 'pure-finders', the poorest of the poor, destitute children or 
aged men and women, some of whom, like the 'mud-larks', gathered 
lumps of coal or fragments of old iron from London's slimy river- 
side, where they spent their days wading and grubbing among the 
refuse of the mud-banks; while others — the 'pure-finders' — scoured 
the pavements for the droppings of dogs, which they then sold 
by the pailful to some local tannery. Their earnings were as meagre 
as their method of livelihood was nauseous. But this branch of 
commerce had its aristocracy; and Mayhew devotes one of his most 
curious and entertaining chapters to the 'toshers' or sewer-hunters, 
whose business it was, before the building of the Thames embank- 
ment, to explore the urban sewcr-system which still opened on the 
fore-shore. Their work was profitable but uncommonly dangerous. 
London's sewers during the 'fifties were ancient, dilapidated and 

Mayhew's London 27 

of unknown extent. Some dated from the Middle Ages; the brick- 
work at any moment might collapse on the explorer's head; he 
might be stifled by sewer-gas; hordes of ferocious sewer-rats might 
attack and overwhelm him, and, before help came, pick his bones 
clean; or he might be drowned by an unusally high tide gurgling 
up unperceived through the labyrinthine passages of his mephitic 
under- world. But on the proceeds of what they discovered — old 
iron, copper coins, even sovereigns and silver tea-spoons — the 
'toshers' could expect to clear a far bigger profit than often came 
the way of the ordinary industrious above-ground London artisan. 
Nor did their health suffer. Though it was a 'roughish smell at 
first' (as one of them admitted), the atmosphere of the sewers soon 
ceased to incommode them; and the 'toshers', as a class, were 
'strong, robust, and healthy men, generally florid in their com- 
plexion'. Their personal habits were regrettably intemperate 
'. . . Like all who make a living as it were by a game of chance, 
plodding, carefulness, and saving habits cannot be reckoned among 
their virtues... The shoremen might, with but ordinary prudence, 
live well, have comfortable homes, and even be able to save 
sufficient to provide for themselves in their old age. Their practice, 
however, is directly the reverse. They no sooner make a "haul", 
as they say, than they adjourn to some low public house in the 
neighbourhood, and seldom leave till empty pockets and hungry 
stomachs drive them forth to procure the means of a fresh debauch. 
It is principally on this account (writes Mayhew, who had visited 
an intelligent 'tosher' in an abominable slum-yard off Rosemary 
Lane) that, despite their large gains, they are to be found located 
in the most wretched quarter of the metropolis'. 

The present abridged edition of London Labour & the London 
Poor has been designed for the convenience of the general reading 
public. Much interesting material — including all the longer passages 
quoted above — has necessarily been sacrificed. Our intention was 
to concentrate on the more graphic and personal side of Mayhew's 
massive survey, and, with the help of these extracts, to provide a 
detailed panorama of London in the 'fifties — of that part of London, 
at least, which underlay the pompous urbanity of its fashionable 

28 Mayhew y s London 

streets and squares. Our text is derived from the three- volume 
edition of 1861; the contents of a fourth volume, published in 1862, 
on prostitutes, thieves, swindlers and beggars, have been omitted 

in entirety. 



Of the thousand millions of human beings that are said to con- 
stitute the population of the entire globe, there are— socially, 
morally, and perhaps even physically considered — but two distinct 
and broadly marked races, viz., the wanderers and the settlers — 
the vagabond and the citizen — the nomadic and the civilized 

The nomadic races of England are of many distinct kinds — 
from the habitual vagrant — half-beggar, half-thief — sleeping in 
barns, tents, and casual wards — to the mechanic on tramp, ob- 
taining his bed and supper from the trade societies in the different 
towns, on his way to seek work. Between these two extremes there 
are several mediate varieties — consisting of pedlars, showmen, har- 
vestmen, and all that large class who live by either selling, showing, 
or doing something through the country. These are, so to speak, 
the rural nomads — not confining their wanderings to any one 
particular locality, but ranging often from one end of the land to 
the other. Besides these, there are the urban and suburban wan- 
derers, or those who follow some itinerant occupation in and round 
about the large towns. Such are, in the metropolis more parti- 
cularly, the pick-pockets — the beggars — the prostitutes — the 
street-sellers — the street-performers — the cabmen — the coachmen 
— the watermen — the sailors and such like. 

Those who obtain their living in the streets of the metropolis 
are a very large and varied class; indeed, the means resorted to in 
order 'to pick up a crust,' as the people call it, in the public 
thoroughfares (and such in many instances it literally is) are so 
multifarious that the mind is long baffled in its attempts to reduce 
them to scientific order or classification. 

It would appear, however, that the street-people may be all 
arranged under six distinct genera or kinds. 

These are severally: 

I. St re et- sellers. 
II. Street-buyers. 
III. Street-finders. 

30 Mayhew's London 

IV. Street-Performers, Artist, ands Showmen. 
V. Street-Artisans, or Working Pedlars; and 
VI. Street-Labourers. 


The number of costermongers, — that it is to say, of those street- 
sellers attending the London, 'green' and 'fish' markets,' — appears 
to be, from the best data at my command, now 30,000 men, 
women and children. 

The costermongering class extends itself yearly; and it is com- 
puted that for the last five years it has increased considerably faster 
than the general metropolitan population. This increase is derived 
partly from all the children of costermongers following the father's 
trade, but chiefly from working men, such as the servants of green- 
grocers or of innkeepers, when out of employ, 'taking a coster's 
barrow' for a livelihood; and the same being done by mechanics 
and labourers out of work. At the time of the famine in Ireland, 
it is calculated, that the number of Irish obtaining a living in the 
London streets must have been at least doubled. 

During the summer months and fruit season, the average number 
of costermongers attending Covent-garden market is about 2,500 
per market-day. In the strawberry season there are nearly double 
as many, there being, at that time, a large number of Jews who 
come to buy; during that period, on a Saturday morning, from the 
commencement to the close of the market, as many as 4,000 costers 
have been reckoned purchasing at Covent-garden. Through the 
winter season, however, the number of costermongers does not 
exceed upon the average 1,000 per market morning. 


Among the street-folk there are many distinct characters of people 
— people differing as widely from each in tastes, habits, thoughts 
and creed, as one nation from another. Of these the costermongers 
form by far the largest and certainly the mostly broadly marked 
class. They appear to be a distinct race — perhaps, originally, of 

Mayhew's London 3 1 

Irish extraction — seldom associating with any other of the street- 
folks, and being all known to each other. The 'patterers,' or the 
men who cry the last dying-speeches, &c. in the street, and those 
who help off their wares by long harangues in the public thorough- 
fares, are again a separate class. These, to use their own term, are 
'the aristocracy of the street-sellers,' despising the costers for 
their ignorance, and boasting that they live by their intellect. 
The public, they say, do not expect to receive from them an equiva- 
lent for their money — they pay to hear them talk. Compared with 
the costermongers, the patterers are generally an educated class, 
and among them are some classical scholars, one clergyman, and 
many sons of gentlemen. They appear to be the counterparts of the 
old mountebanks or street-doctors. As a body they seem far less 
improvable than the costers, being more 'knowing' and less 
impulsive. The street-performers differ again from those; these 
appear to possess many of the characteristics of the lower class of 
actors, viz., a strong desire to excite admiration, an indisposition to 
pursue any settled occupation, a love of the tap-room, though more 
for the society and display than for the drink connected with it, a 
great fondness for finery and predilection for the performance of 
dexterous or dangerous feats. Then there are the street mechanics, 
or artisans — quiet, melancholy, struggling men, who, unable 
to find any regular employment at their own trade, have made 
up a few things, and taken to hawk them in the streets, as the last 
shift of independence. Another distinct class of street-folk are the 
blind people (mostly musicians in a rude way), who, after the loss 
of their eyesight, have sought to keep themselves from the work- 
house by some little excuse for alms-seeking. These, so far as my 
experience goes, appear to be a far more deserving class than is 
usually supposed — their affliction, in most cases, seems to have 
chastened them and to have given a peculiar religious cast to 
their thoughts. 

Such are the several varieties of street-folk, intellectually con- 
sidered — looked at in a national point of view, they likewise include 
many distinct people. Among them are to be found the Irish fruit- 
sellers; the Jew clothesmen; the Italian organ boys, French singing 
women, the German brass bands, the Dutch buy-a-broom girls, 
the Highland bagpipe players, and the Indian crossing-sweepers — 
all of whom I here shall treat of in due order. 

32 Mayhem's London 

The costermongering class or order has also its many varieties. 
These appear to be in the following proportions: — One-half of the 
entire class are costermongers proper, that is to say, the calling with 
them is hereditary, and perhaps has been so for many generations; 
while the other half is composed of three-eighths Irish, and one- 
eighth mechanics, tradesmen, and Jews. 

Under the term 'costermonger' is here included only such 
'street-sellers' as deal in fish, fruit, and vegetables, purchasing 
their goods at the wholesale 'green' and 'fish' markets. Of these 
some carry on their business at the same stationary stall or 'stand- 
ing' in the street, while others go on 'rounds.' The itinerant coster- 
mongers, as contradistinguished from the stationary street-fish- 
mongers and greengrocers, have in many instances regular rounds, 
which they go daily, and which extend from two to ten miles. 
The longest are those which embrace a suburban part; the shortest 
are through streets thickly peopled by the poor, where duly to 
'work' a single street consumes, in some instances, an hour. There 
are also 'chance' rounds. Men 'working' these carry their wares 
to any part in which they hope to find customers. The costermon- 
gers, moreover, diversify their labours by occasionally going on a 
country round, travelling on these excursions, in all directions, from 
thirty to ninety and even a hundred miles from the metropolis. 
Some, again, confine their callings chiefly to the neighbouring races 
and fairs. 


'From the numbers of mechanics,' said one smart costermonger to 
me, 'that I know of in my own district, I should say there's now 
more than 1,000 costers in London that were once mechanics or 
labourers. They are driven to it as a last resource, when they can't 
get work at their trade. They don't do well, at least four out of five, 
or three out of four don't. They're not up to the dodges of the 
business. They go to market with fear, and don't know how to 
venture a bargain if one offers. They're inferior salesmen too, and 
if they have fish left that won't keep, it's a dead loss to them, for 
they aren't up to the trick of selling it cheap at a distance where the 
coster ain't known; or of quitting it to another, for candle-light sale, 
cheap, to the Irish or to the "lushingtons," that haven't a proper 

Mayhevo's London 3 3 

taste for fish. Some of these poor fellows lose every penny. They're 
mostly middle-aged when they begin costering. They'll generally 
commence with oranges or herrings. We pity them. We say, "Poor 
fellows! they'll find it out by-and-by." It's awful to see some poor 
women, too, trying to pick up a living in the streets by selling nuts 
or oranges. It's awful to see them, for they can't set about it right; 
besides that, there's too many before they start. They don't find a 
living, it's only another way of starving.' 


The street- sellers are to be seen in the greatest numbers at the 
London street markets on a Saturday night. Here, and in the shops 
immediately adjoining, the working- classes generally purchase 
their Sunday's dinner; and after pay-time on Saturday night, or 
early on Sunday morning, the crowd in the New-cut, and the Brill 
in particular, is almost impassable. Indeed, the scene in these parts 
has more of the character of a f "ir than a market. There are 
hundreds of stalls, and every sta ll has its one or two fights; either it 
is illuminated by the intense whiteljglit of the new self-generating 
gas-lainp^ oT else it is brightened up by the red smoky flame of the 
old-fashioned grease lamp. One man shows off his yellow haddock 
with a candle stuck in a bundle of firewood; his neighbour makes 
a candlestick of a huge turnip, and the tallow gutters over its 
sides; whilst the boy shouting 'Eight a penny, stunning pears!' 
has rolled his dip in a thick coat of brown paper, that flares away 
with the candle. Some stalls are crimson with the fire shining 
through the holes beneath the baked chestnut stove; others have 
handsome octahedral lamps, while a few have a candle shining 
through a sieve: these, with the sparkling ground-glass globes of 
the tea-dealers' shops, and the butchers' gaslights streaming and 
fluttering in the wind, like flags of flame, pour forth such a flood of 
light, that at a distance the atmosphere immediately above the 
spot is as lurid as if the street were on fire. 

The pavement and the road are crowded with purchasers and 
street-sellers. The housewife in her thick shawl, with the market- 
basket on her arm, walks slowly on, stopping now to look at the 
stall of caps, and now to cheapen a bunch of greens. Little boys, 

34 Mayhem* s London 

holding three or four onions in their hand, creep between the people, 
wriggling their way through every interstice, and asking for custom 
in whining tones, as if seeking charity. Then the tumult of the 
thousand different cries of the eager dealers, all shouting at the 
top of their voices, at one and the same time, is almost bewildering. 
'So-old again,' roars one. 'Chestnuts all 'ot, a penny a score,' 
bawls another. 'An 'aypenny a skin, blacking,' squeaks a boy. 
'Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, bu-u-uy!' cries the butcher. 'Half-quire 
of paper for a penny,' bellows the street stationer. 'An 'aypenny a 
lot ing-uns.' 'Twopence a pound grapes.' 'Three a penny Yar- 
mouth bloaters.' 'Who'll buy a bonnet for fourpence?' 'Pick 'em 
out cheap here! three pair for a halfpenny, bootlaces.' 'Now's your 
time! beautiful whelks, a penny a lot.' 'Here's ha'p'orths,' shouts 
the perambulating confectioner. 'Come and look at 'em! here's 
toasters!' bellows one with a Yarmouth bloater stuck on a toasting- 
fork. 'Penny a lot, fine russets,' calls the apple woman; and so the 
Babel goes on. 

One man stands with his red-edged mats hanging over his back 
and chest, like a herald's coat; and the girl with her basket of wal- 
nuts lifts her brown-stained fingers to her mouth, as she screams, 
'Fine warnuts! sixteen a penny, fine war-r-nuts.' A bootmaker, to 
'ensure custom,' has illuminated his shop-front with a line of gas, 
and in its full glare stands a blind beggar, his eyes turned up so as 
to show only 'the whites,' and mumbling some begging rhymes, 
that are drowned in the shrill notes of the bamboo-flute-player next 
to him. The boy's sharp cry, the woman's cracked voice, the gruff, 
hoarse shout of the man, are all mingled together. Sometimes an 
Irishman is heard with his 'fine ating apples'; or else the jingling 
music of an unseen organ breaks out, as the trio of street singers 
rest between the verses. 

Then the sights, as you elbow your way through the crowd, are 
equally multifarious. Here is a stall glittering with new tin sauce- 
pans; there another, bright with its blue and yellow crockery, and 
sparkling with white glass. Now you come to a row of old shoes 
arranged along the pavement; now to a stand of gaudy tea-trays; 
then to a shop with red handkerchiefs and blue checked shirts, 
fluttering backwards and forwards, and a counter built up outside 
on the kerb, behind which are boys beseeching custom. At the door 
of a tea-shop, with its hundred white globes of light, stands a man 


Thk Iiusn Stkeet-sellek 

Mayhew's London 37 

delivering bills, thanking the public for past favours, and 'defying 
competition.' Here, alongside the road, are some half-dozen head- 
less tailor's dummies, dressed in Chesterfields and fustian jackets, 
each labelled, 'Look at the prices,' or 'Observe the quality.' After 
this is a butcher's shop, crimson and white with meat piled up to 
the first-floor, in front of which the butcher himself, in his blue coat, 
walks up and down, sharpening his knife on the steel that hangs to 
bis waist. A little further on stands the clean family, begging; the 
father with his head down as if in shame, and a box of luoifers held 
forth in his hand — the boys in newly-washed pinafores, and the 
tidily got-up mother with a child at her breast. This stall is green 
and white with bunches of turnips — that red with apples, the next 
yellow with onions, and another purple with pickling cabbages. 
One minute you pass a man with an umbrella turned inside up and 
full of prints; the next, you hear one with a peepshow of Mazeppa, 
and Paul Jones the pirate, describing the pictures to the boys look- 
ing in at the little round windows. Then is heard the sharp snap of 
the percussion- cap from the crowd of lads firing at the target for 
nuts; and the moment afterwards, you see either a black man half- 
clad in white, and shivering in the cold with tracts in his hand, or 
else you hear the sounds of music from 'Frazier's Circus,' on the 
other side of the road, and the man outside the door of the penny 
concert, beseeching you to 'Be in time — be in time!' as Mr. Some- 
body is just about to sing his favourite song of the 'Knife Grinder.' 
Such, indeed, is the riot, the struggle, and the scramble for a living, 
that the confusion and uproar of the New-cut on Saturday night 
have a bewildering and saddening effect upon the thoughtful 

Each salesman tries his utmost to sell his wares, tempting the 
passers-by with his bargains. The boy with his stock of herbs offers 
'a double 'andful of fine parsley for a penny'; the man with the 
donkey-cart filled with turnips has three lads to shout for him to 
their utmost, with their 'Ho! ho! hi-i-i! What do you think of this 
here? A penny a bunch — hurrah for free trade! Here's your turnips!' 
Until it is seen and heard, we have no sense of the scramble that is 
going on throughout London for a living. The same scene takes 
place at the Brill — the same in Leather-lane — the same in Totten- 
ham-court-road — the same in VVhitecross-street; go to whatever 
corner of the metropolis you please, either on a Saturday night or a 

38 Mayhew^s London 

Sunday morning, and there is the same shouting and the same 
struggling to get the penny profit out of the poor man's Sunday's 


Nearly every poor man's market does its Sunday trade. For a few 
hours on the Sabbath morning, the noise, bustle, and scramble of 
the Saturday night are repeated, and but for this opportunity many 
a poor family would pass a dinnerless Sunday. The system of paying 
the mechanic late on the Saturday night — and more particularly 
of paying a man Ins wages in a public-house — when he is tired with 
his day's work, lures him to the tavern, and there the hours fly 
quickly enough beside the warm taproom fire, so that by the time 
the wife comes for her husband's wages, she finds a large portion of 
them gone in drink, and the streets half cleared, so that the Sunday 
market is the only chance of getting the Sunday's dinner. 

Of all these Sunday-morning markets, the Brill, perhaps, fur- 
nishes the busiest scene; so that it may be taken as a type of the 

The streets in the neighbourhood are quiet and empty. The shops 
are closed with their different- coloured shutters, and the people 
round about are dressed in the shiny cloth of the holiday suit. 
There are no 'cabs,' and but few omnibuses to disturb the rest, 
and men walk in the road as safely as on the footpath. 

As you enter the Brill the market sounds are scarcely heard. But 
at each step the low hum grows gradually into the noisy shouting, 
until at last the different cries become distinct, and the hubbub, 
din, and confusion of a thousand voices bellowing at once again 
fill the air. The road and footpath are crowded, as on the over- 
night; the men are standing in groups, smoking and talking; whilst 
the women run to and fro, some with the white round turnips show- 
ing out of their filled aprons, others with cabbages under their arms, 
and a piece of red meat dangling from their hands. Only a few of 
the shops arc closed; but the butcher's and the coal-shed are filled 
with customers, and from the door of the shut-up baker's, the 
women come streaming forth with bags of flour in their hands, 
while men sally from the halfpenny barber's smoothing their clean- 
shaven chins. Walnuts, blacking, apples, onions, braces, combs, 
turnips, herrings, pons, and corn-plaster, are all bellowed out at 

Mayhew's London 39 

the same time. Labourers and mechanics, still unshorn and un- 
dressed, hang about with their hands in their pockets, some with 
their pet terriers under their arms. The pavement is green with the 
refuse leaves of vegetables, and round a cabbage-barrow the women 
stand turning over the bunches, as the man shouts, 'Where you 
like, only a penny.' Boys are running home with the breakfast her- 
ring held in a piece of paper, and the side-pocket of the appleman's 
stuff coat hangs down with the weight of the halfpence stored 
within it. Presently the tolling of the neighbouring church bells 
breaks forth. Then the bustle doubles itself, the cries grow louder, 
the confusion greater. Women run about and push their way 
through the throng, scolding the saunterers, for in half an hour the 
market will close. In a little time the butcher puts up his shutters, 
and leaves the door still open; the policemen in their clean gloves 
come round and drive the street-sellers before them, and as the 
clock strikes eleven the market finishes, and the Sunday's rest 



I find it impossible to separate these two headings; for the habits 
of the costermonger are not domestic. His busy life is passed in the 
markets or the streets, and as his leisure is devoted to the beer-shop, 
the dancing-room, or the theatre, we must look for his habits to his 
demeanour at those places. Home has few attractions to a man 
whose life is a street-life. Even those who are influenced by family 
ties and affections, prefer to 'home' — indeed that word is rarely 
mentioned among them — the conversation, warmth, and merriment 
of the beer-shop, where they can take their ease among their 
'mates.' Excitement or amusement are indispensable to uneducated 
men. Of beer-shops resorted to by costermongers, and principally 
supported by them, it is computed that there are 400 in London. 

Those who meet first in tho beer-shop talk over the state of trade 
and of the markets, while the later comers enter at once into what 
may be styled the serious business of the evening — amusement. 

Business topics are discussed in a most peculiar stylo. One man 
takes the pipe from his mouth and says, 'Bill made a doogheno hit 
this morning.' 'Jem,' says another, to a man just entering, 'you'll 
stand a top o' reeb?' 'On,' answers Jem, 'I've had a trosseno tol, 

40 Mayhew's London 

and have been doing dab.' For an explanation of what may be 
obscure in this dialogue, I must refer my readers to my remarks 
concerning the language of the class. If any strangers are present, 
the conversation is still further clothed in slang, so as to be unintel- 
ligible even to the partially initiated. The evident puzzlement of 
any listener is of course gratifying to the costermonger's vanity, 
for he feels that he possesses a knowledge peculiarly his own. 

Among the in-door amusements of the costermonger is card- 
playing, at which many of them are adepts. The usual games are 
all-fours, all-fives, cribbage, and put. Whist is known to a few, but 
is never played, being considered dull and slow. Of short whist they 
have not heard; 'but,' said one, whom I questioned on the subject, 
'if it's come into fashion, it'll soon be among us.' The play is 
usually for beer, but the game is rendered exciting by bets both 
among the players and the lookers-on. 'I'll back Jem for a yane- 
patine,' says one. 'Jack for a gen,' cries another. A penny is the 
lowest sum laid, and five shillings generally the highest, but a 
shilling is not often exceeded. 'We play fair among ourselves,' 
said a costermonger to me — 'aye, fairer than the aristocrats — but 
we'll take in anybody else.' Where it is known that the landlord 
will not supply cards, 'a sporting coster' carries a pack or two 
with him. The cards played with have rarely been stamped; they 
are generally dirty, and sometimes almost illegible, from long 
handling and spilled beer. Some men will sit patiently for hours at 
these games, and they watch the dealing round of the dingy cards 
intently, and without the attempt — common among politer game- 
sters — to appear indifferent, though they bear their losses well. In 
a full room of card-players, the groups are all shrouded in tobacco- 
smoke, and from them are heard constant sounds — according to 
the games they are engaged in — of 'I'm low, and Ped's high.' 'Tip 
and me's game.' 'Fifteen four and a flush of five.' I may remark 
it is curious that costermongers, who can neither read nor write, 
and who have no knowledge of the multiplication tables, are skilful 
in all the intricacies and calculations of cribbage. There is not much 
quarrelling over the cards, unless strangers play with them, and 
then the costermongers all take part one with another, fairly or 

It has been said that there is a close resemblance between many 
of the characteristics of a very high class, socially, and a very low 

Mayhew^s London 4 1 

class. Those who remember the disclosures on a trial a few years 
back, as to how men of rank and wealth passed their leisure in 
card-playing — many of their lives being one continued leisure — 
can judge how far the analogy holds when the card-passion of the 
costermongers is described. 

'Shove- halfpenny' is another game played by them; so is 
'Three up.' Three halfpennies are thrown up, and when they fall 
all 'heads' or all 'tails,' it is a mark; and the man who gets the 
greatest number of marks out of a given amount — three, or five, 
or more — wins. 'Three-up' is played fairly among the coster- 
mongers; but is most frequently resorted to when strangers are 
present to 'make a pitch,' — which is, in plain words, to cheat any 
stranger who is rash enough to bet upon them. 'This is the way, 
sir,' said an adept to me; 'bless you, I can make them fall as I 
please. If I'm playing with Jo, and a stranger bets with Jo, why, of 
course, I make Jo win.' This adept illustrated his skill to me by 
throwing up three halfpennies, and, five times out of six, they fell 
upon the floor, whether he threw them nearly to the ceiling or 
merely to his shoulder, all heads or all tails. The halfpence were the 
proper current coins — indeed, they were my own; and the result is 
gained by a peculiar position of the coins on the fingers, and a 
peculiar jerk in the throwing. There was an amusing manifestation 
of the pride of art in the way in which my obliging informant 
displayed his skill. 

'Skittles' is another favourite amusement, and the coster- 
mongers class themselves among the best players in London. The 
game is always for beer, but betting goes on. 

A fondness for 'sparring' and 'boxing' lingers among the rude 
members of some classes of the working men, such as the tanners. 
With the great majority of the costermongers this fondness is still 
as dominant as it was among the 'higher classes,' when boxers 
were the pets of princes and nobles. The sparring among the costers 
is not for money, but for beer and 'a lark' — a convenient word 
covering much mischief. Two out of every ten landlords, whose 
houses are patronised by these lovers of 'the art of self-defence,' 
supply gloves. Some charge 2d. a night for their use; others only Id. 
The sparring seldom continues long, sometimes not above a quarter 
of an hour; for the costermongers, though excited for a while, weary 
of sports in which they cannot personally participate, and in the 

42 Mayhew's London 

beer-shops only two spar at a time, though fifty or sixty may be 
present. The shortness of the duration of this pastime may be one 
reason why it seldom leads to quarrelling. The stake is usually a 
'top of reeb,' and the winner is the man who gives the first 'noser'; 
a bloody nose however is required to show that the blow was veri- 
tably a noser. The costermongers boast of their skill in pugilism as 
well as at skittles. 'We are all handy with our fists,' said one man, 
'and are matches, aye, and more than matches, for anybody but 
reg'lar boxers. We've stuck to the ring, too, and gone reg'lar to the 
fights, more than any other men.' 

'Twopenny-hops' are much resorted to by the costermongers, 
men and women, boys and girls. At these dances decorum is some- 
times, but not often, violated. 'The women,' I was told by one 
man, 'doesn't show their necks as I've seen the ladies do in them 
there pictures of high life in the shop-winders, or on the stage. 
Their Sunday gowns, which is their dancing gowns, ain't made 
that way.' At these 'hops' the clog-hornpipe is often danced, and 
sometimes a collection is made to ensure the performance of a first- 
rate professor of that dance; sometimes, and more frequently, it is 
volunteered gratuitously. The other dances are jigs, 'flash jigs' — 
hornpipes in fetters — a dance rendered popular by the success of 
the acted 'Jack Sheppard' — polkas, and country-dances, the last- 
mentioned being generally demanded by the women. Waltzrs are 
as yet unknown to them. Sometimes they do the 'pipe-dance.' 
For this a number of tobacco-pipes, about a dozen, are laid close 
together on the floor, and the dancer places the toe of his boot 
between the different pipes, keeping time with the music. Two of 
the pipes are arranged as a cross, and the toe has to be inserted 
between each of the angles, without breaking them. The numbers 
present at these 'hops' vary from 30 to 100 of both sexes, their 
ages being from 14 to 45, and the female sex being slightly pre- 
dominant as to the proportion of those in attendance. At these 
'hops' there is nothing of the leisurely style of dancing — half 
a glide and half a skip — but vigorous, laborious capering. The 
hours are from half-past eight to twelve, sometimes to one or two 
in the morning, and never later than two, as the costermongers 
are early risers. There is sometimes a good deal of drinking; some 
of the young girls being often pressed to drink, and frequently 
yielding to the temptation. From 11. to 11. is spent in drink at a 

Mayheufs London 43 

hop; the youngest men or lads present spend the most, especially 
in that act of costermonger politeness — 'treating the gals.' The 
music is always a fiddle, sometimes with the addition of a harp and 
a cornopean. The band is provided by the costermongers, to whom 
the assembly is confined; but during the present and the last year, 
when the costers' earnings have been less than the average, the 
landlord has provided the harp, whenever that instrument has 
added to the charms of the fiddle. Of one use to which these 'hops' 
are put I have given an account, under the head of 'Marriage.' 

The other amusements of this class of the community are the 
theatre and the penny concert, and their visits are almost entirely 
confined to the galleries of the theatres on the Surrey-side — the 
Surrey, the Victoria, the Bower Saloon, and (but less frequently) 
Astley's. Three times a week is an average attendance at theatres 
and dances by the more prosperous costermongers. The most intelli- 
gent man I met with among them gave me the following account. 
He classes himself with the many, but his tastes are really those 
of an educated man: — 'Love and murder suits us best, sir; but 
within these few years I think there's a great deal more liking for 
deep tragedies among us. They set men a thinking; but then we all 
consider them too long. Of Hamlet we can make neither end nor 
side; and nine out of ten of us — ay, far more than that — would 
like it to be confined to the ghost scenes, and the funeral, and the 
killing off at the last. Macbeth would be better liked, if it was only 
the witches and the fighting. The high words in a tragedy we call 
jaw-breakers, and say we can't tumble to that barrikin. We always 
stay to the last, because we've paid for it all, or very few costers 
would see a tragedy out if any money was returned to those leaving 
after two or three acts. We are fond of music. Nigger music was very 
much liked among us, but it's stale now. Flash songs are liked, 
and sailor's songs, and patriotic songs. Most costers — indeed, I 
can't call to mind an exception — listen very quietly to songs that 
they don't in the understand. We have among us translations 
of the patriotic Frenoh songs. "Mourir pour la patrie" is very popu- 
lar, and so is the "Marseillaise." A song to take hold of us must 
have a good chorus.' 'They like something, sir, that is worth hear- 
ing,' said one of my informants, 'such as the "Soldier's Dream," 
"The Dream of Napoleon," or "I 'ad a dream — an 'appy dream." 

The songs in ridicule of Marshal Haynau, and in laudation of 

44 Mayhew^s London 

Barclay and Perkin's draymen, were and are very popular among 
the costers; but none are more popular than Paul Jones — 'A noble 
commander, Paul Jones was his name.' Among them the chorus 
of 'Britons never shall be slaves,' is often rendered 'Britons always 
shall be slaves.' The most popular of all songs with the class, how- 
ever, is 'Duck-legged Dick,' of which I give the first verse. 

'Duck-legged Dick had a donkey, 

And his lush loved much for to swill, 
One day he got rather lumpy, 

And got sent seven days to the mill. 
His donkey was taken to the green-yard, 

A fate which he never deserved. 
Oh! it was such a regular mean yard, 

That alas! the poor moke got starved. 
Oh! bad luck can't be prevented, 

Fortune she smiles or she frowns, 
He's best off that's contented, 

To mix, sirs, the ups and the downs.' 

Their sports are enjoyed the more, if they are dangerous and 
require both courage and dexterity to succeed in them. They prefer, 
if crossing a bridge, to climb over the parapet, and walk along on 
the stone coping. When a house is building, rows of coster lads will 
climb up the long ladders, leaning against the unslated roof, and 
then slide down again, each one resting on the other's shoulders. 
A peep show with a battle is sure of its coster audience, and a 
favourite pastime is fighting with cheap theatrical swords. They 
are, however, true to each other, and should a coster, who is the 
hero of his court, fall ill and go to a hospital, the whole of the 
inhabitants of his quarter will visit him on the Sunday, and take 
him presents of various articles so that 'he may live well.' 

Among the men, rat-killing is a favourite sport. They will enter 
an old stable, fasten the door and then turn out the rats. Or they 
will find out some unfrequented yard, and at night time build up a 
pit with apple-case boards, and lighting up their lamps, enjoy the 
sport. Nearly every coster is fond of dogs. Some fancy them greatly, 
and are proud of making them fight. If when out working, they see 
a handsome stray, whether he is a 'toy' or 'sporting' dog, they 
whip him up — many of the class not being very particular whether 
the animals arc stray or not. 

Their dog fights are both cruel and frequent. It is not uncommon 

Mayhew*s London 45 

to see a lad walking with the trembling legs of a dog shivering 
under a bloody handkerchief, that covers the bitten and wounded 
body of an animal that has been figuring at some 'match.' These 
fights take place on the sly — the tap-room or back-yard of a beer- 
shop, being generally chosen for the purpose. A few men are let 
into the secret, and they attend to bet upon the winner, the police 
being carefully kept from the spot. 

Pigeons are 'fancied' to a large extent, and are kept in lath 
cages on the roofs of the houses. The lads look upon a visit to the 
Redhouse, Battersea, where the pigeon-shooting takes place, as a 
great treat. They stand without the hoarding that encloses the 
ground, and watch for the wounded pigeons to fall, when a violent 
scramble takes place among them, each bird being valued at 3d. 
or Ad. So popular has this sport become, that some boys take dogs 
with them trained to retrieve the birds, and two Lambeth costers 
attend regularly after their morning's work with their guns, to 
shoot those that escape the 'shots' within. 

A good pugilist is looked up to with great admiration by the 
costers, and fighting is considered to be a necessary part of a boy's 
education. Among them cowardice in any shape is despised as 
being degrading and loathsome, indeed the man who would avoid 
a fight, is scouted by the whole of the court he lives in. Hence it is 
important for a lad and even a girl to know how to 'work their 
fists well' — as expert boxing is called among them. If a coster man 
or woman is struck they are obliged to fight. When a quarrel takes 
place between two boys, a ring is formed, and the men urge them on 
to have it out, for they hold that it is a wrong thing to stop a battle, 
as it causes bad blood for life; whereas, if the lads fight it out they 
shako hands and forget all about it. Everybody practises fighting, 
and the man who has the largest and hardest muscle is spoken of 
in terms of the highest commendation. It is often said in admiration 
of such a man that 'he could muzzle half a dozen bobbies before 

To serve out a policeman is the bravest act by which a coster- 
monger can distinguish himself. Some lads have been imprisoned 
upwards of a dozen times for this offence; and are consequently 
looked upon by their companions as martyrs. When they leave 
prison for such an act, a subscription is often got up for their hone- 
fit. In their continual warfare with the force they resemble many 

46 Mayhew^s London 

savage nations, from the cunning and treachery they use. The lads 
endeavour to take the unsuspecting 'crusher' by surprise, and 
often crouch at the entrance of a court until a policeman passes, 
when a stone or a brick is hurled at him, and the youngster imme- 
diately disappears. Their love of revenge too, is extreme — their 
hatred being in no way mitigated by time; they will wait for months, 
following a policeman who has offended or wronged them, anxiously 
looking out for an opportunity of paying back the injury. One boy, 
I was told, vowed vengeance against a member of the force, and for 
six months never allowed the man to escape his notice. At length, 
one night, he saw the policeman in a row outside a public-house, 
and running into the crowd kicked him savagely, shouting at the 

same time: 'Now, you b , I've got you at last.' When the boy 

heard that his persecutor was injured for life, his joy was very great, 
and he declared the twelvemonth's imprisonment he was sentenced 
to for the offence to be 'dirt cheap.' The whole of the court where 
the lad resided sympathized with the boy, and vowed to a man, 
that had he escaped, they would have subscribed a pad or two of 
dry herrings, to send him into the country until the affair had 
blown over, for he had shown himself a 'plucky one.' 

It is called 'plucky' to bear pain without complaining. To flinch 
from expected suffering is scorned, and he who does so is sneered 
at and told to wear a gown, as being more fit to be a woman.. 
To show a disregard for pain, a lad, when without money, will 
say to his pal, 'Give us a penny, and you may have a punch at my 

They also delight in tattooing their chests and arms with anchors, 
and figures of different kinds. During the whole of this painful 
operation, the boy will not flinch, but laugh and joke with his 
admiring companions, as if perfectly at ease. 


It would be difficult to find in the whole of this numerous class, 
a youngster who is not — what may be safely called — a desperate 
gambler. At the age of fourteen this love of play first comes upon 
the lad, and from that time until he is thirty or so, not a Sunday 
passes but he is at his stand on the gambling ground. p]vcn if he has 
no money to stake he will loll away the morning looking on, and so 

Mayhew's London 47 

borrow excitement from the successes of others. Every attempt 
made by the police, to check this ruinous system, has been unavail- 
ing, and has rather given a gloss of daring courage to the sport, that 
tends to render it doubly attractive. 

If a costermonger has an hour to spare, his first thought is to 
gamble away the time. He does not care what he plays for, so long 
as he can have a chance of winning something. Whilst waiting for 
a market to open, his delight is to find out some pieman and toss 
him for his stock, though, by doing so, he risks his market-money 
and only chance of living, to win that which he will give away 
to the first friend he meets. For the whole week the boy will work 
untiringly, spurred on by the thought of the money to be won on 
the Sunday. Nothing will damp his ardour for gambling, the most 
continued iD- fortune making him even more reckless than if he 
were the luckiest man alive. 

Many a lad who has gone down to the gambling ground, with a 
good warm coat upon his back and his pocket well filled from the 
Saturday night's market, will leave it at evening penniless and 
coatless, having lost all his earnings, stock-money, and the better 
part of his clothing. Some of the boys, when desperate with 'bad 
luck,' borrow to the utmost limit of their credit; then they mort- 
gage their 'king'sman' or neck-tie, and they will even change their 
cord trousers, if better than those of the winner, so as to have one 
more chance at the turn of fortune. The coldest winter's day will 
not stop the Sunday's gathering on the riverside, for the heat of 
play warms them in spite of the sharp wind blowing down the 
Thames. If the weather be wet, so that the half-pence stick to the 
ground, they find out some railway-arch or else a beer-shop, and 
having filled the tap-room with their numbers, they muffle the 
table with handkerchiefs, and play secretly. When the game is very 
exciting, they will even forget their hunger, and continue to gamble 
until it is too dark to see, before they think of eating. One man told 
me, that when he was working the races with lemonade, he had 
often, seen in the centre of a group, composed of costers, thimble- 
riggers and showmen, as much as 100J. on the ground at one time, 
in gold and silver. A friend of his, who had gone down in company 
with him, with a pony-truck of toys, lost in less than an hour his 
earnings, truck, stock of goods, and great-coat. Vowing to have 
his revenge next time, he took his boy on his back, and started off 

48 Mayhew's London 

on the tramp to London, there to borrow sufficient money to bring 
down a fresh lot of goods on the morrow, and then gamble away 
his earnings as before. 

It is perfectly immaterial to the coster with whom he plays, 
whether it be a lad from the Lambeth potteries, or a thief from the 
Westminster slums. Very often, too, the gamblers of one coster- 
monger district, will visit those of another, and work what is called 
'a plant' in this way. One of the visitors will go before hand, and 
joining a group of gamblers, commence tossing. When sufficient 
time has elapsed to remove all suspicion of companionship, his mate 
will come up and commence betting on each of his pals' throws 
with those standing round. By a curious quickness of hand, a coster 
can make the toss tell favourably for his wagering friend, who 
meets him after the play is over in the evening, and shares the spoil. 

The spots generally chosen for the Sunday's sport are in secret 
places, half-hidden from the eye of the passers, where a scout can 
give quick notice of the approach of the police: in the fields about 
King's-cross, or near any unfinished railway buildings. The Mint, 
St. George's-fields, Blackfriars'-road, Bethnal-green, and Maryle- 
bone, are all favourite resorts. Between Lambeth and Chelsea, the 
shingle on the left side of the Thames, is spotted with small rings of 
lads, half-hidden behind the barges. One boy (of the party) is 
always on the look out, and even if a stranger should advance, the 
cry is given of 'Namous' or 'Kool Eslop.' Instantly the money is 
whipped-up and pocketed, and the boys stand chattering and 
laughing together. It is never difficult for a coster to find out where 
the gambling parties are, for he has only to stop the first lad he 
meets, and ask him where the 'erth pu' or 'three up' is going on, 
to discover their whereabouts. 

If during the game a cry of 'Police!' should be given by the 
looker-out, instantly a rush at the money is made by any one in 
the group, the costers preferring that a stranger should have the 
money rather than the policeman. There is also a custom among 
them, that the ruined player should be started again by a gift of 
2d. in every shilling lost, or, if the loss is heavy, a present of four or 
five shillings is made; neither is it considered at all dishonourable for 
the party winning to leave with the full bloom of success upon him. 

That the description of one of these Sunday scenes might be more 
truthful, a visit was paid to a gambling-ring close to . Although 

Maykew^s London 49 

not twenty yards distant from the steam-boat pier, yet the little 
party was so concealed among the coal-barges, that not a head 
could be seen. The spot chosen was close to a narrow court, leading 
from the street to the water-side, and here the lad on the look-out 
was stationed. There were about thirty young fellows, some tall 
strapping youths, in the costers' cable-cord costume, — others, mere 
boys, in rags, from the potteries, with their clothes stained with 
clay. The party was hidden from the river by the black dredger- 
boats on the beach; and it was so arranged, that should the alarm 
be given, they might leap into the coal- barges, and hide until the 
intruder had retired. Seated on some oars stretched across two 
craft, was a mortar-stained bricklayer, keeping a look-out towards 
the river, and acting as a sort of umpire in all disputes. The two 
that were tossing had been playing together since early morning; 
and it was easy to tell which was the loser, by the anxious- looking 
eye and compressed lip. He was quarrelsome too; and if the crowd 
pressed upon him, he would jerk his elbow back savagely, saying, 

T wish to C 1 you'd stand backer.' The winner, a short man, 

in a mud-stained canvas jacket, and a week's yellow beard on his 
chin, never spake a word beyond his 'heads,' or 'tails'; but his 
cheeks were red, and the pipe in his mouth was unlit, though he 
puffed at it. 

In their hands they each held a long row of halfpence, extending 
to the wrist, and topped by shillings and half-crowns. Nearly every 
one round had coppers in his hands, and bets were made and taken 
as rapidly as they could be spoken. 'I lost a sov. last night in less 
than no time,' said one man, who, with his hands in his pockets, 
was looking on; 'never mind — I mustn't have no wenson this week, 
and try again next Sunday.' 

The boy who was losing was adopting every means to 'bring 
back his luck again.' Before crying, he would toss up a halfpenny 
three times, to see what he should call. At last, with an oath, he 
pushed aside the boys round him, and shifted his place, to see what 
that would do; it had a good effect, for he won toss after toss in a 
curiously fortunate way, and then it was strange to watch his 
mouth gradually relax and his brows unknit. His opponent was 
a little startled, and passing his fingers through his dusty hair, said, 
with a stupid laugh, 'Well, I never see the likes.' The betting also 
began to shift. 'Sixpence Ned wins!' cried three or four; 'Sixpence 

5 May hew' s London 

he loses!' answered another; 'Done!' and up went the halfpence. 
'Half-a-crown Joe loses!' — 'Here you are,' answered Joe, but he 
lost again. 'I'll try you a "gen"' (shilling) said a coster; 'And a 
"rouf yenap"' (fourpence), added the other. 'Say a "exes'" (six- 
pence). — 'Done!' and the betting continued, till the ground was 
spotted with silver and halfpence. 

'That's ten bob he's won in five minutes,' said Joe (the loser), 
looking round with a forced smile; but Ned (the winner) never 
spake a word, even when he gave any change to his antagonist; 
and if he took a bet, he only nodded to the one that offered it, and 
threw down his money. Once, when he picked up more than a 
sovereign from the ground, that he had won in one throw, a washed 
sweep, with a black rim round his neck, said, 'There's a hog!' but 
there wasn't even a smile at the joke. At last Joe began to feel 
angry, and stamping his foot till the water squirted up from the 
beach, cried, 'It's no use; luck's set in him — he'd muck a thousand!' 
and so he shifted his ground, and betted all round on the chance of 
better fortune attending the movement. He lost again, and some 
one bantering said, 'You'll win the shine-rag, Joe,' meaning that 
he would be 'cracked up' or ruined, if he continued. 

When one o'clock struck, a lad left, saying, he was 'going to get 
an inside lining' (dinner). The sweep asked him what he was going 
to have. 'A two-and-half plate, and a ha'p'orth of smash' (a plate 
of soup and a ha'p'orth of mashed potatoes), replied the lad, 
bounding into the court. Nobody else seemed to care for his dinner, 
for all stayed to watch the gamblers. 

Every now and then some one would go up the court to see if 
the lad watching for the police was keeping a good look-out; but 
the boy never deserted his post, for fear of losing his threepence. 
If he had, such is the wish to protect the players felt by every lad, 
that even whilst at dinner, one of them, if he saw a policeman pass, 
would spring up and rush to the gambling ring to give notice. 

When the tall youth, 'Ned,' had won nearly all the silver of the 
group, he suddenly jerked his gains into his coat-pocket, and saying, 
'I've done,' walked off, and was out of sight in an instant. The 
surprise of the loser and all around was extreme. They looked at 
the court where he had disappeared, then at one another and at 
last burst out into one expression of disgust. 'There's a scurf!' said 
one; 'He's a regular scab,' cried another; and a coster declared 

Mayhem's London 5 1 

that he was 'a trosseno, and no mistake.' For although it is held to 
be fair for the winner to go whenever he wishes, yet such conduct 
is never relished by the losers. 

It was then determined that 'they would have him to rights' 
the next time he came to gamble; for every one would set at him, 
and win his money, and then 'turn up,' as he had done. 

The party was then broken up, the players separating to wait 
for the new-comers that would be sure to pour in after dinner. 


On a good attractive night, the rush of costers to the threepenny 
gallery of the Coburg (better known as 'the Vic') is peculiar and 
almost awful. 

The long zig-zag staircase that leads to the pay box is crowded 
to suffocation at least an hour before the theatre is opened; but, on 
the occasion of a piece with a good murder in it, the crowd will 
frequently collect as early as three o'clock in the afternoon. Lads 
stand upon the broad wooden bannisters about 50 feet from the 
ground, and jump on each others' backs, or adopt any expedient 
they can think of to obtain a good place. 

The walls of the well-staircase having a remarkably fine echo, 
and the wooden floor of the steps serving as a sounding board, the 
shouting, whistling, and quarrelling of the impatient young costers 
is increased tenfold. If, as sometimes happens, a song with a chorus 
is started, the ears positively ache with the din, and when the chant 
has finished it seems as though a sudden silence had fallen on the 
people. To the centre of the road, and all round the door, the mob 
is in a ferment of excitement, and no sooner is the money-taker at 
his post than the most frightful rush takes place, every one heaving 
with his shoulder at the back of the person immediately in front 
of him. The girls shriek, men shout, and a nervous fear is felt lest 
the massive staircase should fall in with the weight of the throng, 
as it lately did with the most terrible results. If a hat tumbles from 
the top of the staircase, a hundred hands snatch at it as it descends. 
When it is caught a voice roars above the tumult, 'All right, Bill, 
I've got it' — for they all seem to know one another — 'Keep us a 
pitch and I'll bring it.' 

To any one unaccustomed to be pressed flat it would be impos- 

5 2 Mayhew's London 

sible to enter with the mob. To see the sight in the gallery it is 
better to wait until the first piece is over. The hamsandwich men 
and pigtrotter women will give you notice when the time is come, 
for with the first clatter of the descending footsteps they commence 
their cries. 

There are few grown-up men that go to the 'Vic' gallery. The 
generality of the visitors are lads from about twelve to three-and- 
twenty, and though a few black-faced sweeps or whitey-brown 
dustmen may be among the throng, the gallery audience consists 
mainly of costermongers. Young girls, too, are very plentiful, only 
one-third of whom now take their babies, owing to the new regula- 
tion of charging half-price for infants. At the foot of the staircase 
stands a group of boys begging for the return checks, which they 
sell again for \\d. or Id., according to the lateness of the hour. 

At each step up the well-staircase the warmth and stench in- 
crease, until by the time one reaches the gallery doorway, a furnace- 
heat rushes out through the entrance that seems to force you back- 
wards, whilst the odour positively prevents respiration. The mob 
on the landing, standing on tip-toe and closely wedged together, 
resists any civil attempt at gaining a glimpse of the stage, and yet 
a coster lad will rush up, elbow his way into the crowd, then jump 
up on to the shoulders of those before him, and suddenly disappear 
into the body of the gallery. 

The gallery at 'the Vic' is one of the largest in London. It will 
hold from 1,500 to 2,000 people, and runs back to so great a dis- 
tance, that the end of it is lost in shadow, excepting where the little 
gas-jets, against the wall, light up the two or three faces around 
them. When the gallery is well packed, it is usual to see piles of 
boys on each others' shoulders at the back, while on the partition 
boards, dividing off the slips, lads will pitch themselves, despite 
the spikes. 

As you look up the vast slanting mass of heads from the upper 
boxes, each one appears on the move. The huge black heap, dotted 
with faces, and spotted with white shirt sleeves, almost pains the 
eye to look at, and should a clapping of hands commence, the 
twinkling nearly blinds you. It is the fashion with the mob to take 
off their coats; and the cross-braces on the backs of some, and the 
bare shoulders peeping out of the ragged shirts of others, are the 
only variety to be found. The bonnets of the iadies' are hung over 

Mayheiv's London 5 3 

the iron railing in front, their numbers nearly hiding the panels, 
and one of the amusements of the lads in the back seats consists in 
pitching orange peel or nutshells into them, a good aim being 
rewarded with a shout of laughter. 

When the orchestra begins playing, before 'the gods' have 
settled into their seats, it is impossible to hear a note of music. The 
puffed-out cheeks of the trumpeters, and the raised drumsticks tell 
you that the overture has commenced, but no tune is to be heard, 
an occasional burst of the full band being caught by gushes, as if a 
high wind were raging. Recognitions take place every moment, and 
'Bill Smith' is called to in a loud voice from one side, and a shout 
in answer from the other asks 'What's up?' Or family secrets are 
revealed, and 'Bob Triller' is asked where 'Sal' is, and replies 
amid a roar of laughter, that she is 'a-larning the pynanney.' 

By-and-by a youngster, who has come in late, jumps over the 
shoulders at the door, and doubling himself into a ball, rolls down 
over the heads in front, leaving a trail of commotion for each one 
as he passes aims a blow at the fellow. Presently a fight is sure to 
begin, and then every one rises from his seat whistling and shouting; 
three or four pairs of arms fall to, the audience waving their hands 
till the moving mass seems like microscopic eels in paste. But the 
commotion ceases suddenly on the rising of the curtain, and then 
the cries of 'Silence!' 'Ord-a-a-r!' 'Ord-a-a-r!' make more noise 
than ever. 

The 'Vic' gallery is not to be moved by touching sentiment. 
They prefer vigorous exercise to any emotional speech. 'The Child 
of the Storm's' declaration that she would share her father's 'death 
or imprisonment as her duty,' had no effect at all, compared with 
the split in the hornpipe. The shrill whistling and brayvos that 
followed the tar's performance showed how highly it was relished, 
and one 'god' went so far as to ask 'how it was done.' The comic 
actor kicking a dozen Polish peasants was encored, but the grand 
banquet of the Czar of all the Russians only produced merriment, 
and a request that he would 'give them a bit' was made directly 
the Emperor took the willow-patterned plate in his hand. All 
affecting situations were sun- to be interrupted by cries of 'orda-a-r'; 
and the lady begging for her father's life was told to 'speak up old 
gal'; though when the heroine of the 'dummestie dreamer' (as 
they call it) told the general of all the Cossack forces 'not to 1»' 

5 4 Mayhew^s London 

a fool,' the uproar of approbation grew greater than ever, — and 
when the lady turned up her swan's-down cuffs, and seizing four 
Russian soldiers shook them successively by the collar, then the 
enthusiasm knew no bounds, and the cries of 'Bray-vo Vincent! 
Go it my tulip,' resounded from every throat. 

Altogether the gallery audience do not seem to be of a gentle 
nature. One poor little lad shouted out in a crying tone, 'that he 
couldn't see,' and instantly a dozen voices demanded 'that he 
should be thrown over.' 

Whilst the pieces are going on, brown, flat bottles are frequently 
raised to the mouth, and between the acts a man with a tin can, 
glittering in the gas-light, goes round crying, 'Port-a-a-a-r! who's 
for port-a-a-a-r.' As the heat increased the faces grew bright red, 
every bonnet was taken off, and ladies could be seen wiping the 
perspiration from their cheeks with the play-bills. 

No delay between the pieces will be allowed, and should the 
interval appear too long, some one will shout out — referring to the 
curtain — 'Pull up that there winder blind!' or they will call to the 
orchestra, saying, 'Now then you catgut-scrapers! Let's have a 
ha'purth of liveliness.' Neither will they suffer a play to proceed 
until they have a good view of the stage, and 'Higher the blue,' 
is constantly shouted, when the sky is too low, or 'Light up the 
moon,' when the transparency is rather dim. 

The dances and comic songs, between the pieces, are liked 
better than anything else. A highland fling is certain to be repeated, 
and a stamping of feet will accompany the tune, and a shrill 
whistling, keep time through the entire performance. 

But the grand hit of the evening is always when a song is sung 
to which the entire gallery can join in the chorus. Then a deep 
silence prevails all through the stanzas. Should any burst in before 
his time, a shout of 'orda-a-r' is raised, and the intruder put down 
by a thousand indignant cries. At the proper time, however, the 
throats of the mob burst forth in all their strength. The most 
deafening noise breaks out suddenly, while the cat-calls keep up 
the tune, and an imitation of a dozen Mr. Punches squeak out the 
words. Some actors at the minor theatres make a great point of 
this, and in the bill upon the night of my visit, under the title of 
'There's a good time coming, boys,' there was printed, 'assisted by 
the most numerous and effective chorus in the metropolis' — mean- 

Mayhew's London 55 

ing the whole of the gallery. The singer himself started the mob, 
saying, 'Now then, the Exeter Hall touch if you please gentlemen,' 
and beat time with his hand, parodying M. Jullien with his baton. 
An 'angcore' on such occasions is always demanded, and, despite a 
few murmurs of 'change it to "Duck-legged Dick,"' invariably 
insisted on. 


The notion of the police is so intimately blended with what may 
be called the politics of the costermongers that I give them together. 

The politics of these people are detailed in a few words — they 
are nearly all Chartists. 'You might say, sir,' remarked one of my 
informants, 'that they all were Chartists, but as it's better you 
should rather be under than over the mark, say nearly all.' Their 
ignorance, and their being impulsive, makes them a dangerous 
class. I am assured that in every district where the costermongers 
are congregated, one or two of the body, more intelligent than the 
others, have great influence over them; and these leading men are 
all Chartists, and being industrious and not unprosperous persons, 
their pecuniary and intellectual superiority cause them to be 
regarded as oracles. One of these men said to me: 'The costers 
think that working-men know best, and so they have confidence in 
us. I like to make men discontented, and I will make them dis- 
contented while the present system continues, because it's all for 
the middle and the moneyed classes, and nothing, in the way of 
rights, for the poor. People fancy when all's quiet that all's stag- 
nating. Propagandism is going on for all that. It's when all's quiet 
that the seed's a growing. Republicans and Socialists are pressing 
their doctrines.' 

The costermongers have very vague notions of an aristocracy; 
they call the more prosperous of their own body 'aristocrats.' 
Their notions of an aristocracy of birth or wealth seem to be formed 
on their opinion of the rich, or reputed rich salesmen with whom 
they deal; and the result is anything but favourable to the 

Concerning free-trade, nothing, I am told, can check the coster- 
monger's fervour for a cheap loaf. A Chartist costermonger told me 

56 Mayhew's London 

that he knew numbers of costers who were keen Chartists without 
understanding anything about the six points. 

The costermongers frequently attend political meetings, going 
there in bodies of from six to twelve. Some of them, I learned, 
could not understand why Chartist leaders exhorted them to peace 
and quietness, when they might as well fight it out with the police 
at once. The costers boast, moreover, that they stick more together 
in any 'row' than any other class. It is considered by them a 
reflection on the character of the thieves that they are seldom true 
to one another. 

It is a matter of marvel to many of this class that people can 
five without working. The ignorant costers have no knowledge of 
'property,' or 'income,' and conclude that the non-workers all 
live out of the taxes. Of the taxes generally they judge from their 
knowledge that tobacco, which they account a necessary of life, 
pays 3s. per lb. duty. 

As regards the police, the hatred of a costermonger to a 'peeler' 
is intense, and with their opinion of police, all the more ignorant 
unite that of the governing power. 'Can you wonder at it, sir,' said 
a costermonger to me, 'that I hate the police? They drive us about, 
we must move on, we can't stand here, and we can't pitch there. 
But if we're cracked up, that is if we're forced to go into the 
Union (I've known it both at Clerkenwell and the City of London 
workhouses), why the parish gives us money to buy a barrow, or a 
shallow, or to hire them, and leave the house and start for our- 
selves; and what's the use of that, if the police won't let us sell our 
goods? — Which is right, the parish or the police?' 

To thwart the police in any measure the costermongers readily 
aid one another. One very common procedure, if the policeman 
has seized a barrow, is to whip off a wheel, while the officers have 
gone for assistance; for a large and loaded barrow requires two 
men to convey it to the green-yard. This is done with great dex- 
terity; and the next step is to dispose of the stock to any passing 
costers, or to any 'standing' in the neighbourhood, and it is honestly 
accounted for. The policemen, on their return, find an empty, and 
unwheelable barrow, which they must carry off by main strength, 
amid the jeers of the populace. 

I am assured that in case of a political riot every 'coster' would 
seize his policeman. 

Mayhew's London 5 7 


'Only one-tenth — at the outside one-tenth — of the couples living 
together and carrying on the costermongering trade, are married. 
In Clerkenwell parish, however, where the number of married 
couples is about a fifth of the whole, this difference is easily account- 
ed for, as in Advent and Easter the incumbent of that parish 
marries poor couples without a fee. Of the rights of 'legitimate' or 
'illegitimate' children the costermongers understand nothing, and 
account it a mere waste of money and time to go through the C 
ceremony of wedlock when a pair can live together, and be quite ' 
as well regarded by their fellows, without it. The married women 
associate with the unmarried mothers of families without the 
slightest scruple. There is no honour attached to the marriage 
state, and no shame to concubinage. Neither are the unmarried 
women less faithful to their 'partners' than the married; but I 
understand that, of the two classes, the unmarried betray the most 

As regards the fidelity of these women I was assured that, 'in 
anything like good times,' they were rigidly faithful to their hus- 
bands or paramours; but that, in the worst pinch of poverty, a 
departure from this fidelity — if it provided a few meals or a fire — 
was not considered at all heinous. An old costermonger, who had 
been mixed up with other callings, and whose prejudices were 
certainly not in favour of his present trade, said to me, 'What I 
call the working girls, are as industrious and as faithful a set 
as can well be. I'm satisfied that they're more faithful to their 
mates than other poor working women. I never knew one of these 
working girls do wrong that way. They're strong, hearty, healthy 
girls, and keep clean rooms. Why, there's numbers of men leave 
their stock money with their women, just taking out two or three 
shillings to gamble with and get drunk upon. They sometimes take 
a little drop themselves, the women do, and get beaten by their 
husbands for it, and hardest beaten if the man's drunk himself. 
They're sometimes beaten for other things too, or for nothing at 
all. But they seem to like the men better for their beating them. 
I never could make that out.' Notwithstanding this fidelity, it 

5 8 Mayhew's London 

appears that the 'larking and joking' of the young, and sometimes 
of the middle-aged people, among themselves is anything but 
delicate. The unmarried separate as seldom as the married. The 
fidelity characterizing the women does not belong to the men.) 

The dancing-rooms are the places where matches are made up. 
There the boys go to look out for 'mates' and sometimes a match 
is struck up the first night of meeting, and the couple live together 
forthwith. The girls at these dances are all the daughters of coster- 
mongers, or of persons pursuing some other course of street life. 
Unions take place when the lad is but 14. Two or three out of 100 
have their female helpmates at that early age; but the female is 
generally a couple of years older than her partner. Nearly all the 
costermongers form such alliances as I have described, when both 
parties are under twenty. One reason why these alliances are con- 
tracted at early ages is, that when a boy has assisted his father, or 
any one engaging him, in the business of a costermonger, he knows 
that he can borrow money, and hire a shallow or a barrow — or 
he may have saved 5s — 'and then if the father vexes him or snubs 
him,' said one of my informants, 'he'll tell his father to go to h — 1, 
and he and his gal will start on their own account.' 

Most of the costermongers have numerous families, but not those 
who contract alliances very young. The women continue working 
down to the day of their confinement. 

'Chance children,' as they are called, or children unrecognized 
by any father, are rare among the young women of the coster- 


An intelligent and trustworthy man, until very recently actively 
engaged in costermongering, computed that not 3 in 100 coster- 
mongers had ever been in the interior of a church, or any place of 
worship, or knew what was meant by Christianity. The same 
person gave me the following account, which was confirmed by 

'The costers have no religion at all, and very little notion, or 
none at all, of what religion or a future state is. Of all things they 
hate tracts. They hate them because the people leaving them never 
give them anything, and as they can't read the tract — not one in 

Mayhew's London 59 

forty — they're vexed to be bothered with it. And really what is the 
use of giving people reading before you've taught them to read ? 
Now, they respect the City Missionaries, because they read to them 
— and the costers will listen to reading when they don't under- 
stand it — and because they visit the sick, and sometimes give 
oranges and such like to them and the children. I've known a City 
Missionary buy a shilling's worth of oranges of a coster, and give 
them away to the sick and the children — most of them belonging 
to the costermongers — down the court, and that made him respect- 
ed there. I think the City Missionaries have done good. But I'm 
satisfied that if the costers had to profess themselves of some 
religion to-morrow, they would all become Roman Catholics, 
every one of them. This is the reason: — London costers live very 
often in the same courts and streets as the poor Irish, and if the 
Irish are sick, be sure there comes to them the priest, the Sisters of 
Charity — they are good women — and some other ladies. Many a 
man that's not a Catholic, has rotted and died without any good 
person near him. Why, I lived a good while in Lambeth, and there 
wasn't one coster in 100, I'm satisfied, knew so much as the rector's 
name, — though Mr. Dalton's a very good man. But the reason 
I was telling you of, sir, is that the costers reckon that religion's 
the best that gives the most in charity, and they think the Catholics 
do this.' 


I iiave stated elsewhere, that only about one in ten of the regular 
costermongers is able to read. The want of education among both 
men and women is deplorable, and I tested it in several instances. 
The following statement, however, from one of the body, is no more 
to be taken as representing the ignorance of the class generally, 
than are the clear and discriminating accounts I received from 
intelligent costermongers to be taken as representing the intelli- 
gence of the body. 

The man with whom I conversed, and from whom I received 
the following statement, seemed about thirty. He was certainly 
not ill-looking, but with a heavy cast of countenance, his light blue 
eyes having little expression. His statements, or opinions, I need 

60 Mayhem's London 

hardly explain, were given both spontaneously in the course of 
conversation, and in answer to my questions. I give them almost 
verbatim, omitting oaths and slang: 

'Well, times is bad, sir,' he said, 'but it's a deadish time. I don't 
do so well at present as in middlish times, I think. When I served 
the Prince of Naples, not far from here (I presume that he alluded 
to the Prince of Capua), I did better and times was better. That 
was five years ago, but I can't say to a year or two. He was a good 
customer, and was wery fond of peaches. I used to sell them to him, 
at 12s. the plasket when they was new. The plasket held a dozen, 
and cost me 6s. at Covent-garden — more sometimes; but I didn't 
charge him more when they did. His footman was a black man, 
and a ignorant man quite, and his housekeeper was a English- 
woman. He was the Prince o' Naples, was my customer; but I 
don't know what he was like, for I never saw him. I've heard that 
he was the brother of the king of Naples. I can't say where Naples 
is, but if you was to ask at Euston-square, they'll tell you the fare 
there and the time to go it in. It may be in France for anything 
I know may Naples, or in Ireland. Why don't you ask at the square ? 
I went to Croydon once by rail, and slept all the way without 
stirring, and so you may to Naples for anything I know. I never 
heard of the Pope being a neighbour of the King of Naples. Do 
you mean living next door to him? But I don't know nothing of 
the King of Naples, only the prince. I don't know what the Pope 
is. Is he any trade? It's nothing to me, when he's no customer of 
mine. I have nothing to say about nobody that ain't no customers. 
My crabs is caught in the sea, in course. I gets them at Billingsgate. 
I never saw the sea, but it's salt-water, I know. I can't say where- 
abouts it lays. I believe it's in the hands of the Billingsgate sales- 
men — all of it. I've heard of shipwrecks at sea, caused by drownd- 
ing, in course. I never heard that the Prince of Naples was ever at 
sea. I like to talk about him, he was such a customer when he lived 
near here.' (Here he repeated his account of the supply of peaches 
to his Royal Highness). 'I never was in France, no, sir, never. I 
don't know the way. Do you think I could do better there ? I never 
was in the Republic there. What's it like? Bonaparte? 0, yes; I've 
heard of him. He was at Waterloo. I didn't know he'd been alive 
now and in France, as you ask me about him. I don't think you're 
larking, sir. Did I hear of the French taking possession of Naples, 

Mayhevfs London 6 1 

and Bonaparte making his brother-in-law king? Well, I didn't, but 
it may be true, because I served the Prince of Naples, what was the 
brother of the king. I never heard whether the Prince was the king's 
older brother or his younger. I wish he may turn out his older if 
there's any property coming to him, as the oldest has the first turn; 
at least so I've heard — first come, first served. I've worked the 
streets and the courts at all times. I've worked them by moonlight, 
but you couldn't see the moonlight where it was busy. I can't say 
how far the moon's off us. It's nothing to me, but I've seen it a good 
bit higher than St. Paul's. I don't know nothing about the sun. 
Why do you ask ? It must be nearer than the moon for it's warmer, 
— and if they're both fire, that shows it. It's like the tap-room grate 
and that bit of a gas-light; to compare the two is. What was St. 
Paul's that the moon was above? A church, sir; so I've heard. I 
never was in a church. O, yes, I've heard of God; he made heaven 
and earth; I never heard of his making the sea; that's another thing, 
and you can best learn about that at Billingsgate. (He seemed to 
think that the sea was an appurtenance of Billingsgate). Jesus 
Christ? Yes. I've heard of him. Our Redeemer? Well, I only wish 
I could redeem my Sunday togs from my uncle's.' 


The slang language of the costermongers is not very remarkable 
for originality of construction; it possesses no humour: but they 
boast that it is known only to themselves; it is far beyond the Irish, 
they say, and puzzles the Jews.The root of the costermonger tongue, 
so to speak, is to give the words spelt backward, or rather pro- 
nounced rudely backward. With this backward pronunciation, 
which is very arbitrary, are mixed words reducible to no rule and 
seldom referable to any origin; while any syllable is added to a 
proper slang word, at the discretion of the speaker. 

Slang is acquired very rapidly, and some costermongers will 
converse in it by the hour. The women use it sparingly; the girls 
more than the women; the men more than the girls; and the boys 
most of all. The ignorant of all these classes deal most in slang 
and boast of their cleverness and proficiency in it. In their conver- 
sations among themselves, the following are invariably the terms 
used in money matters: 














Three- half- pence. 

6 2 Mayhew^s London 

Flatch . 

Yenep . 










Leven . 


Yenep -flatch 

and so on throu 

It was explained to me by a costermonger, who had introduced 
some new words into the slang, that 'leven' was allowed so closely 
to resemble the proper word, because elevenpence was almost an 
unknown sum to costermongers, the transition — weights and 
measures notwithstanding — being immediate from lOd. to Is. 

'Gen' is a shilling and the numismatic sequence is pursued with 
the gens, as regards shillings, as with the 'yeneps' as regards pence. 
The blending of the two is also according to the same system as 
'Owt-gen, teaich-yenep' two-and-eightpence. The exception to 
the uniformity of the 'gen' enumeration is in the sum of 8s., which 
instead of 'teaich-gen' is 'teaich-guy'; a deviation with ample 
precedents in all civilised tongues. 

As regards the larger coins the translation into slang is not 
reducible into rule. The following are the costermonger coins of 
the higher value: 

gh the penny-halfpennies. 

C outer . 

Half-Couter, or Net-gen 
Flatch-ynork . 


The costermongers still further complicate their slang by a 
mode of multiplication. They thus say, 'Erth Ewif-gens' or 3 times 
5s., which means of course 15s. 

Mayhem's London 6 3 

Speaking of this language, a costermonger said to me: 'The 
Irish can't tumble to it anyhow; the Jews can tumble better, but 
we're their masters. Some of the young salesmen at Billingsgate 
understand us, — but only at Billingsgate; and they think they're 
uncommon clever, but they're not quite up to the mark. The 
police don't understand us at all. It would be a pity if they did.' 

I give a few more phrases: 

A or dabheno? 
A regular trosseno 
On . 

Say .... 
Tumble to your barrikin 
Top o' reeb 
Doing dab 
Cool him . 

Is it a good or bad market ? 

A regular bad one. 



Understand you. 

Pot of beer. 

Doing badly. 

Look at him. 

The latter phrase is used when one costermonger warns another 
of the approach of a policeman 'who might order him to move on, 
or be otherwise unpleasant.' 'Cool' (look) is exclaimed, or 'Cool 
him' (look at him). One costermonger told me as a great joke that 
a very stout policeman, who was then new to the duty, was when 
in a violent state of perspiration, much offended by a costermonger 
saying 'Cool him.' 

Cool the esclop .... Look at the police. 
Cool the namesclop . . . Look at the policeman. 

Cool ta the dillo nemo . . . Look at the old woman; 

said of any woman, young or old, who, according to costermonger 
notions, is 'giving herself airs.' 

This language seems confined, in its general use, to the immediate 
objects of the costermonger' s care; but is, among the more acute 
members of the fraternity, greatly extended, and is capable of 
indefinite extension. 

The costermonger's oaths, I may conclude, are all in the ver- 
nacular; nor are any of the common salutes, such as 'How d'you 
do?' or 'Good-night' known to their slang. 

Kennetseeno .... Stinking; 

(applied principally to the quality of fish). 
Flatch kanurd . . . Half-drunk. 

6 4 Mayhew^s London 

No good. 
A thief. 
Bad money; 

Flash it .... Show it; 

(in cases of bargains offered). 
On doog 
Cross chap 

(seldom in the hands of costermongers). 
Vm on to the deb . . . I'm going to bed. 

Do the tightner . . . Go to dinner. 

Nommus . . . .Be off. 

Tol ..... Lot, Stock, or Share. 

Many costermongers, 'but principally — perhaps entirely,' — 
I was told, 'those who had not been regular born and bred to the 
trade, but had taken to it when cracked up in their own,' do not 
trouble themselves to acquire any knowledge of slang. It is not 
indispensable for the carrying on of their business; the grand object, 
however, seems to be, to shield their bargainings at market, or 
their conversation among themselves touching their day's work 
and profits, from the knowledge of any Irish or uninitiated fellow- 


Like many rude, and almost all wandering communities, the 
costermongers, like the cabmen and pickpockets are hardly ever 
known by their real names; even the honest men among them are 
distinguished by some strange appellation. Indeed, they are all 
known one to another by nicknames, which they acquire either by 
some mode of dress, some remark that has ensured costermonger 
applause, some peculiarity in trading, or some defect or singularity 
in personal appearance. Men are known as 'Rotten Herrings,' 
'Spuddy' (a seller of bad potatoes, until beaten by the Irish for 
his bad wares), 'Curly' (a man with a curly head), 'Foreigner' 
(a man who had been in the Spanish-Legion), 'Brassy' (a very 
saucy person), 'Gaffy' (once a performer), 'The One-eyed Buffer,' 
'Jaw-breaker,' 'Pine-apple Jack,' 'Cast-iron Poll' (her head 
having been struck with a pot without injury to her), 'Whilky,' 
'Black wall Poll' (a woman generally having two black eyes), 
'Lushy Bet,' 'Dirty Sail' (the costermongers generally objecting 
to dirty women), and 'Dancing Sue.' 

Mayhew's London 65 



I have used the heading of 'Education' but perhaps to say 'non- 
education,' would be more suitable. Very few indeed of the coster- 
mongers' children are sent even to the Ragged Schools; and if they 
are, from all I could learn, it is done more that the mother may be 
saved the trouble of tending them at home, than from any desire 
that the children shall acquire useful knowledge. Both boys and 
girls are sent out by their parents in the evening to sell nuts, or- 
anges, «fec, at the doors of the theatres, or in any public place, or 
'round the houses' (a stated circuit from their place of abode). This 
trade they pursue eagerly for the sake of 'bunts,' though some carry 
home the money they take, very honestly. The costermongers are 
kind to their children, 'perhaps in a rough way, and the women 
make regular pets of them very often.' One experienced man 
told me, that he had seen a poor costermonger's wife — one of the 
few who could read — instructing her children in reading; but such 
instances were very rare. 


It may appear anomalous to speak of the literature of an unedu- 
cated body, but even the costermongers have their tastes for books. 
They are very fond of hearing any one read aloud to them, and 
listen very attentively. One man often reads the Sunday paper of 
the beer-shop to them, and on a fine summer's evening a coster- 
monger, or any neighbour who has the advantage of being 'a schol- 
lard,' reads aloud to them in the courts they inhabit. What they 
love best to listen to — and, indeed, what they are most eager for — 
are Reynolds's periodicals, especially the 'Mysteries of the Court.' 
'They're got tired of Lloyd's blood-stained stories,' said one man, 
who was in the habit of reading to them, 'and I'm satisfied that, 
of all London, Reynolds is the most popular man among them. 
They stuck to him in Trafalgar-square, and would again. They 
all say he's "a trump," and Feargus O'Connor's another trump 
with them.' 

One intelligent man considered that the spirit of curiosity mani- 
fested by the costermongers, as regards the information or excite- 

66 Mayhew's London 

ment derived from hearing stories read, augured well for the 
unprovability of the class. 

Another intelligent costermonger, who had recently read some 
of the cheap periodicals to ten or twelve men, women, and boys, 
all costermongers, gave me an account of the comments made by 
his auditors. They had assembled, after their day's work or their 
rounds, for the purpose of hearing my informant read the last 
number of some of the penny publications. 

'The costermongers,' said my informant, 'are very fond of 
illustrations. I have known a man, what couldn't read, buy a 
periodical what had an illustration, a little out of the common way 
perhaps, just that he might learn from some one, who could read, 
what it was all about. They have all heard of Cruikshank, and they 
think everything funny is by him — funny scenes in a play and all. 
His "Bottle'' was very much admired. I heard one man say it was 
very prime, and showed what "lush" did, but I saw the same man,' 
added my informant, 'drunk three hours afterwards. Look you 
here, sir,' he continued, turning over a periodical, for he had the 
number with him, 'here's a portrait of "Catherine of Russia." "Tell 
us all about her," said one man to me last night; "read it; what was 
she?" When I had read it,' my informant continued, 'another man, 
to whom I showed it, said, "Don't the cove as did that know 
a deal?" for they fancy — at least, a many do — that one man writes 
a whole periodical, or a whole newspaper. Now here,' proceeded 
my friend, 'you sees an engraving of a man hung up, burning over 
a fire, and some costers would go mad if they couldn't learn what 
he'd been doing, who he was, and all about him. "But about the 
picture?" they would say, and this is a very common question put 
by them whenever they see an engraving. 

'Here's one of the passages that took their fancy wonderfully,' 
my informant observed: 

"With glowing cheeks, flashing eyes, and palpitating bosom, Venetia 
Trelawney rushed back into the refreshment-room, where she throw 
herself into one of the arm-chairs already noticed. But scarcely had 
sho thus sunk down upon the flocculent cushion, when a sharp click, 
as of some mechanism giving way, met her ears; and at the same 
instant her wrists were caught in manacles which sprang out of the 
arms of tho treacherous chair, while two steel bands started from the 
richly-carvod back and grasped her shoulders. A shriek burst from her 
lips — she struggled violently, but all to no purpose; for she was 

Mayhew's London 67 

a captive — and powerless! We should observe that the manacles and 
the steel bands which had thus fastened upon her, were covered with 
velvet, so that they inflicted no positive injury upon her, nor even 
produced the slightest abrasion of her fair and polished skin." 

'Here all my audience,' said the man to me, 'broke out with — 
"Aye! that's the way the harristocrats hooks it. There's nothing o' 
that sort among us; the rich has all that barrikin to themselves." 

"Yes, that's the b way the taxes goes in," shouted a woman. 

'Anything about the police sets them a talking at once. This did 
when I read it: 

"The Ebenezers still continued their fierce struggle, and, from the 
noise they made, seemed as if they were tearing each other to pieces, 
to the wild roar of a chorus of profane swearing. The alarm, as Bloom- 
field had predicted, was soon raised, and some two or three policemen, 
with their bull's-eyes, and still more effective truncheons, speedily 
restored order." 

"The blessed crushers is everywhere," shouted one. "I wish I'd 
been thereto have had a shy at the eslops," said another. And then 
a man sung out: "0, don't I like the Bobbys?" 

'If there's any foreign language which can't be explained, I've 
seen the costers,' my informant went on, 'annoyed at it — quite 
annoyed. Another time I read part of one of Lloyd's numbers to 
them — but they like something spicier. One article in them — here 
it is — finishes in this way: 

"The social habits and costumes of the Magyar noblesse have almost 
all the characteristics of the corresponding class in Ireland. This word 
noblesse is one of wide significance in Hungary; and one may with 
great truth say of this strange nation, that 'qui n'est point noble n'est 

"I can't tumble to that barrikin," said a young fellow; "it's a jaw- 
breaker. But if this here — what d'ye call it, you talk about — was 
like the Irish, why they was a rum lot." "Noblesse," said a man 
that's considered a clever fellow, from having once learned his 
letters, though he can't read or write. "Noblesse! Blessed if I 
know what he's up to." Here there was a regular laugh.' 


I in; \ ud on all hands that the costers never steal from one another, 
and never wink at any one stealing from a neighbouring stall. Any 
stall-keeper will leave his stall untended to get his dinner, his 

68 Mayhew*s London 

neighbour acting for him; sometimes he will leave it to enjoy a 
game of skittles. It was computed for me, that property worth 
10,000Z. belonging to costers is daily left exposed in the streets or 
at the markets, almost entirely unwatched, the policeman or 
market-keeper only passing at intervals. And yet thefts are rarely 
heard of, and when heard of are not attributable to costermongers, 
but to regular thieves. The way in which the sum of 10,000Z. was 
arrived at, is this: 'In Hooper-street, Lambeth,' said my informant, 
'there are thirty barrows and carts exposed on an evening, left in 
the street, with nobody to see them; left there all night. That is 
only one street. Each barrow and board would be worth, on the 
average, 21. 5s., and that would be 151. In the other bye-streets and 
courts off the New-cut are six times as many, Hooper-street having 
the most. This would give 525Z. in all, left unwatched of a night. 
There are, throughout London, twelve more districts besides the 
New-cut — at least twelve districts — and, calculating the same 
amount in these, we have, altogether, 6,300Z. worth of barrows. 
Taking in other bye-streets, we may safely reckon it at 4,000 bar- 
rows; for the numbers I have given in the thirteen places are 2,520, 
and 1,480 added is moderate. At least half those which are in use 
next day, are left unwatched; more, I have no doubt, but say half. 
The stock of these 2,000 will average 10'. each, or 1,000Z.; and the 
barrows will be worth 4.500Z.; in all 5,500/., and the property 
exposed on the stalls and the markets will be double in amount, or 
11,0002. in value, every day, but say 10,000Z. 

'Besides, sir,' I was told, 'the thieves won't rob the costers so 
often as they will the shopkeepers. It's easier to steal from a butch- 
er's or bacon-seller's open window than from a costermonger's 
stall or barrow, because the shopkeeper's eye can't be always on 
his goods. But there's always some one to give an eye to a coster's 
property. At Billingsgate the thieves will rob the salesmen far 
readier than they will us. They know we'd take it out of them 
readier if they were caught. It's L}mch law with us. We never give 
them in charge.' 

The costermongers' boys will, I am informed, cheat their 
employers, but they do not steal from them. The costers' donkey 
stables have seldom either lock or latch, and sometimes oysters, 
and other things which the donkey will not molest, are left there, 
but are never stolen. 


^ ^ 

The Baked Potato Man 


LI . I V.'** 

QSWBSKSS 3 ^- 5 * 31 

Tun London Coffee Stall 

Mayhew's London 7 1 


We now come to consider the matters relating more particularly 
to the commercial life of the costermonger. 

All who pass along the thoroughfares of the Metropolis, bestow- 
ing more than a cursory glance upon the many phases of its busy 
street life, must be struck with astonishment to observe the various 
modes of conveyance, used by those who resort to the public 
thoroughfares for a livelihood. From the more provident coster- 
monger's pony and donkey cart, to the old rusty iron tray slung 
round the neck by the vendor of blacking, and down to the little 
grey-eyed Irish boy with his lucifer-matches, in the last remains 
of a willow hand basket — the shape and variety of the means 
resorted to by the costermongers and other street-sellers, for carry- 
ing about their goods, are almost as manifold as the articles they 

The pony — or donkey — carts (and the latter is by far the more 
usual beast of draught), of the prosperous costermongers are of 
three kinds: — the first is of an oblong shape, with a rail behind, 
upon which is placed a tray filled with bunches of greens, turnips, 
celery, &c, whilst other commodities are laid in the bed of the cart. 
Another kind is the common square cart without springs, which 
is so constructed that the sides, as well as the front and back, will 
let down and form shelves whereon the stock may be arranged to 
advantage. The third sort of pony-cart is one of home manufacture, 
consisting of the framework of a body without sides, or front, or 
hind part. Sometimes a coster's barrow is formed into a donkey 
cart merely by fastening, with cord, two rough poles to the handles. 
All these several kinds of carts are used for the conveyance of either 
fruit, vegetables, or fish; but besides those, there is the salt and 
mustard vendor's cart, with and without the tilt or covering, and a 
square piece of tin (stuck into a block of salt), on which is painted 
'salt 3 lbs. a penny,' and 'mustard a penny an ounce' Then them 
is the poultry cart, with the wild ducks, and rabbits dangling at 
its Bides, and with two uprights and a cross-stick, upon which are 
suspended birds, &e., slung across in couples. 

The above conveyances are all of small dimensions, the barrows 

7 2 Mayhew's London 

being generally about five feet long and three wide, while the carts 
are mostly about four feet square. 

Every kind of harness is used; some is well blacked and greased 
and glittering with brass, others are almost as grey with dust as the 
donkey itself. Some of the jackasses are gaudily caparisoned in an 
old carriage harness, which fits it like a man's coat on a boy's back, 
while the plated silver ornaments are pink, with the copper showing 
through; others have rope traces and belly-bands, and not a few 
indulge in old cotton handkerchiefs for pads. 

The next conveyance (which, indeed, is the most general) is the 
costermonger's hand-barrow. These are very light in their make, 
with springs terminating at the axle. Some have rails behind for 
the arrangement of their goods; others have not. Some have side 
rails, whilst others have only the frame- work. The shape of these 
barrows is oblong, and sloped from the hind-part towards the front; 
the bottom of the bed is not boarded, but consists of narrow strips 
of wood nailed athwart and across. When the coster is hawking his 
fish, or vending his green stuff, he provides himself with a wooden 
tray, which is placed upon his barrow. Those who cannot afford a 
tray get some pieces of board and fasten them together, these 
answering their purpose as well. Pine-apple and pine-apple rock 
barrows are not unfrequently seen with small bright coloured flags 
at the four corners, fluttering in the wind. 


Having set forth the costermonger's usual mode of conveying his 
goods through the streets of London, I shall now give the reader a 
description of the place and scene where and when he purchases 
his donkeys. 

When a costermonger wishes to see or buy a donkey, he goes to 
Smithficld-market on a Friday afternoon. On this day, between 
the hours of one and five, there is a kind of fair held, attended 
solely by costermongers, for whose convenience a long paved slip 
of ground, about eighty feet in length, has been set apart. The 
animals for sale are trotted up and down this — the 'racecourse,' 
as it is called — and on each side of it stand the spectators and 
purchasers, crowding among the stalls of peas-soup, hot eels, and 
other street delicacies. 

Mayhew's London 7 3 

Everything necessary for the starting of a costermonger's barrow 
can be had in Smithfield on a Friday, — from the barrow itself to 
the weights — from the donkey to the whip. The animals can be 
purchased at prices ranging from 5s. to 31. On a brisk market-day 
as many as two hundred donkeys have been sold. The barrows for 
sale are kept apart from the steeds, but harness to any amount can 
be found everywhere, in all degrees of excellence, from the bright 
japanned cart saddle with its new red pads, to the old mouldy 
trace covered with buckle marks. Wheels of every size and colour, 
and springs in every stage of rust, are hawked about on all sides. 
To the usual noise and shouting of a Saturday night's market is 
added the shrill squealing of distant pigs, the lowing of the passing 
oxen, the bleating of sheep, and the braying of donkej-s. The paved 
road all down the 'race-course' is level and soft, with the mud 
trodden down between the stones. The policeman on duty there 
wears huge fisherman's or fiushermen's boots, reaching to their 
thighs; and the trouser ends of the costers' corduroys are black and 
sodden with wet dirt. Every variety of odour fills the air; you pass 
from the stable smell that hangs about the donkeys, into an atmos- 
phere of apples and fried fish, near the eating-stalls, while a few 
paces further on you are nearly choked with the stench of goats. 
The crowd of black hats, thickly dotted with red and yellow plush 
caps, reels about; and the 'hi-hi-i-i' of the donkey-runners sounds 
on all sides. Sometimes a curly-headed bull, with a fierce red eye, 
on its way to or from the adjacent cattle-market, comes trotting 
down the road, making all the visitors rush suddenly to the railings, 
for fear — as a coster near me said — of 'being taught the hornpipe.' 

The donkeys standing for sale are ranged in a long line on both 
sides of the 'race-course,' their white velvety noses resting on the 
wooden rail they are tied to. Many of them wear their blinkers and 
head harness, and others are ornamented with ribbons, fastened in 
their halters. The lookers-on lean against this railing, and chat with 
the boys at the donkeys' heads, or with the men who stand behind 
them, and keep continually hitting and shouting at the poor still 
beasts to make them prance. Sometimes a party of two or three will 
be seen closely examining one of these 'Jerusalem ponys,' passing 
their hands down its legs, or looking quietly on, while the pro- 
prietor's ash stick descends on the patient brute's hack, making a 
dull hollow sound. As you walk in front of the long line of donkeys, 

7 4 Mayhew's London 

the lads seize the animals by their nostrils, and show their large 
teeth, asking if you 'want a hass, sir,' and all warranting the 
creature to be 'five years old next buff-day.' Dealers are quarrelling 
among themselves, downcrying each other's goods. 'A hearty man,' 
shouted one proprietor, pointing to his rival's stock, 'could eat 
three sich donkeys as yourn at a meal.' 

One fellow, standing behind his steed, shouts as he strikes, 
'Here's the real Britannia mettle'; whilst another asks. 'Who's 
for the Pride of the Market?' and then proceeds to flip 'the pride' 
with his whip, till she clears away the mob with her kickings. 
Here, standing by its mother, will be a shaggy little colt, with a 
group of ragged boys fondling it, and lifting it in their arms from 
the ground. 

During all this the shouts of the drivers and runners fill the air, 
as they rush past each other on the race-course. Now a tall fellow, 
dragging a donkey after him, runs by crying, as he charges in 
amongst the mob, 'Hulloa! Hulloa! hi! hi!' his mate, with his 
long coat-tails flying in the wind, hurrying after and roaring, 
between his blows, 'Keem-up!' 

On nearly every post are hung traces or bridles; and in one 
place, on the occasion of my visit, stood an old collar with a donkey 
nibbling at the straw that had burst out. Some of the lads, in 
smock-frocks, walk about with cart-saddles on their heads, and 
crowds gather round the trucks, piled up with a black heap of 
harness studded with brass. Those without trays have spread out 
old sacks on the ground, on which are laid axle-trees, bound-up 
springs, and battered carriage-lamps. There are plenty of rusty 
nails and iron bolts to be had, if a barrow should want mending; 
and if the handles are broken, an old cab-shaft can be bought 
cheap, to repair them. 

In another 'race-course,' opposite to the donkeys, — the ponies 
are sold. These make a curious collection, each one showing what 
was his last master's whim. One has its legs and belly shorn of its 
hair, another has its mane and tail cut close, and some have switch 
tails, muddy at the end from their length. A big-hipped black nag, 
with red tinsel-like spots on its back, had its ears cut close, and 
another curly-haired brute that was wet and streaming with having 
been shown off, had two huge letters burnt into its hind-quarters. 
Here the clattering of the hoofs and the smacking of whips added 

Mayhem's London 75 

to the din; and one poor brute, with red empty eye-holes, and 
carrying its head high up — as a blind man does — sent out showers 
of sparks from its hoofs as it spluttered over the stones, at each blow 
it received. Occasionally, in one part of the pony market, there may 
be seen a crowd gathered round a nag, that some one swears has 
been stolen from him. 

Raised up over the heads of the mob are bundles of whips, and 
men push their way past, with their arms full of yellow-handled 
curry-combs; whilst, amongst other cries, is heard that of 'Sticks 
\d. each! sticks — real smarters.' At one end of the market the 
barrows for sale are kept piled up one on another, or filled 
with old wheels, and some with white unpainted wood, showing 
where they have been repaired. Men are here seen thumping the 
wooden trays, and trying the strength of the springs by leaning 
on them; and here, too, stood, on the occasion of my visit, a 
ragged coster lad trying to sell his scales, now the cherry-season 
had passed. 

On all sides the refreshment-barrows are surrounded by cus- 
tomers. The whelk-man peppers his lots, and shouts, 'A lumping 
penn'orth for a ha'penny'; and a lad in a smock-frock carries two 
full pails of milk, slopping it as he walks, and crying, 'Ha'penny a 
mug-full, new milk from the ke-ow!' The only quiet people to be 
seen are round the pea-soup stall, with their cups in their hands; 
and there is a huge crowd covering in the hot-eel stand, with the 
steam rising up in the centre. Baskets of sliced cake, apples, nuts, 
and pine-apple rock, block up the pathway; and long wicker baskets 
of live fowls hem you in, round which are grouped the costers, 
handling and blowing apart the feathers on the breast. 


The costermongers almost universally treat their donkeys with 
kindness. Many a costermonger will resent the ill-treatment of a 
donkey, as he would a personal indignity. These animals are often 
not only favourites, but pets, having their share of the coster- 
monger's dinner when bread forms a portion of it, or pudding, or 
anything suited to the palate of the brute. Those well-used, mani- 
fest fondness for their masters, and arc easily manageable; it is, 
however, difficult to get an ass, whoso master goes regular rounds, 

7 6 Mayhevis London 

away from its stable for any second labour during the day, unless it 
has fed and slept in the interval. The usual fare of a donkey is a peck 
of chaff, which costs 1<2., a quart of oats and a quart of beans, each 
averaging \\d., and sometimes a pennyworth of hay, being an 
expenditure of 4d. or 5d. a day; but some give double this quantity 
in a prosperous time. Only one meal a day is given. Many coster- 
mongers told me, that their donkeys lived well when they them- 
selves lived well. 

'It's all nonsense to call donkeys stupid,' said one costermonger 
to me; 'them's stupid that calls them so: they're sensible. Not long 
since I worked Guildford with my donkey-cart and a boy. Jack 
(the donkey) was slow and heavy in coming back, until we got in 
sight of the lights at Vauxhall-gate, and then he trotted on like 
one o'clock, he did indeed! just as if he smelt it was London besides 
seeing it, and knew he was at home. He had a famous appetite in 
the country, and the fresh grass did him good. I gave a country lad 
2d. to mind him in a green lane there. I wanted my own boy to do 
so, but he said, "I'll see you further first." A London boy hates 
being by himself in a lone country part. He's afraid of being burked; 
he is indeed. One can't quarrel with a lad when he's away with one 
in the country; he's very useful. I feed my donkey well. I sometimes 
give him a carrot for a luxury, but carrots are dear now. He's fond 
of mashed potatoes, and has many a good mash when I can buy 
them at 4 lb a penny.' 


The costermongers, though living by buying and selling, are seldom 
or never capitalists. It is estimated that not more than one-fourth 
of the entire body trade upon their own property. Some borrow 
their stock money, others borrow the stock itself, others again 
borrow the donkey-carts, barrows, or baskets, in which their stock 
is carried round, whilst others borrow even the weights and 
measures by which it is meted out. 

The reader, however uninformed he may be as to the price the 
poor usually have to pay for any loans they may require, doubt- 
lessly need not be told that the remuneration exacted for the use of 
the above-named commodities is not merely confined to the legal 51. 
per centum per annum; still many of even the most 'knowing' 

Mayhem's London 7 7 

will hardly be able to credit the fact that the ordinary rate of 
interest in the costermongers' money-market amounts to 20 per 
cent, per week, or no less than 1,040Z. a year, for every 100Z. 

But the iniquity of this usury in the present instance is felt, not 
so much by the costermongers themselves, as by the poor people 
whom they serve; for, of course, the enormous rate of interest must 
be paid out of the profits on the goods they sell, and consequently 
added to the price, so that coupling this overcharge with the 
customary short allowances — in either weight or measure, as the 
case may be — we can readily perceive how cruelly the poor are 
defrauded, and how they not only get often too little for what they 
do, but have as often to pay too much for what they buy. 


All counterfeit weights and measures, the costermongers call by 
the appropriate name of 'slang.' 'There are not half so many 
slangs as there was eighteen months ago,' said a 'general dealer' to 
me. 'You see, sir, the letters in the Morning Chronicle set people a 
talking, and some altered their way of business. Some was very 
angry at what was said in the articles on the street-sellers, and 
swore that costers was gentlemen, and that they'd smash the men's 
noses that had told you, sir, if they knew who they were. There's 
plenty of costers wouldn't use slangs at all, if people would give a 
fair price; but you see the boys will try it on for their bunts, and 
how is a man to sell fine cherries at 4d. a pound that cost him 3\d., 
when there's a kid alongside of him a selling his "tol" at 2d. a pound, 
and singing it out as bold as brass? So the men slangs it, and cries 
"2d. a pound," and gives half-pound, as the boy does; which brings 
it to the same thing. We doesn't 'dulterate our goods like the trades- 
men — that is, the regular hands doesn't. It wouldn't be easy, as 
you say, to 'dulterate cabbages or oysters; but we deals fair to all 
that's fair to us, — and that's more than many a tradesman does, 
for all their juries.' 

The slang quart is a pint and a half. It is made precisely like the 
proper quart; and the maker, I was told, 'knows well enough what 
it's for, as it's charged, new, 6d. more than a true quart measure; 
but it's nothing to him, as he says, what it's for, so long as he gets 

7 8 Mayhem's London 

his price.' The slang quart is let out at 2d. a day — Id. extra being 
charged 'for the risk.' The slang pint holds in some cases three- 
fourths of the just quantity, having a very thick bottom; others 
hold only half a pint, having a false bottom half-way up. These are 
used chiefly in measuring nuts, of which the proper quantity is 
hardly ever given to the purchaser; 'but, then,' it was often said, 
or implied to me, the 'price is all the lower, and people just brings 
it on themselves, by wanting things for next to nothing; so it's all 
right; it's people's own faults.' The hire of the slang pint is 2d. 
per day. 


But there are still other 'agents' among the costermongers, and 
these are the 'boys' deputed to sell a man's goods for a certain 
sum, all over that amount being the boys' profit or 'bunts.' Almost 
every costermonger who trades through the streets with his barrow 
is accompanied by a boy. The ages of these lads vary from ten to 
sixteen, there are few above sixteen, for the lads think it is then 
high time for them to start on their own account. These boys are 
useful to the man in 'calling,' their shrill voices being often more 
audible than the loudest pitch of an adult's lungs. Many persons, 
moreover, I am assured, prefer buying off a boy, believing that if 
the lad did not succeed in selling his goods he would be knocked 
about when he got home; others think that they are safer in a boy's 
hands, and less likely to be cheated; these, however, are equally 
mistaken notions. The boys also are useful in pushing at the barrow, 
or in drawing it along by tugging at a rope in front. Some of them 
are the sons of costermongers; some go round to the costermongers' 
abodes and say: 'Will you want me to-morrow?' 'Shall I come 
and give you a lift?' The parents of the lads thus at large are, when 
they have parents, either unable to support them, or, if able, prefer 
putting their money to other uses (such as drinking); and so the 
lads have to look out for themselves, or, as they say, 'pick up a few 
halfpence and a bit of grub as we can.' Such lads, however, are 
the smallest class of costermongering youths; and are sometimes 
called 'cas'alty boys,' or 'nippers.' 

The boys — and nearly the whole of them — soon become very 

Mayhew's London 7 9 

quick, and grow masters of slang, in from six weeks to two or three 
months. 'I suppose,' said one man familiar with their character, 
'they'd learn French as soon, if they was thrown into the way of it. 
They must learn slang to live, and as they have to wait at 
markets every now and then, from one hour to six, they associate 
one with another and carry on conversations in slang about 
the 'penny gaffs' (theatres), criticising the actors; or may be 
they toss the pieman, if they've got any ha'pence, or else they 
chaff the passers by. The older ones may talk about their 
sweethearts; but they always speak of them by the name of 
"nammow" (girls). 

'The boys are severe critics too (continued my informant) on 
dancing. I heard one say to another; "What do you think of Johnny 
Millicent's new step?" for they always recognise a new step, or they 
discuss the female dancer's legs, and not very decently. At other 
times the boys discuss the merits or demerits of their masters, as to 
who feeds them best. I have heard one say, "0, ain't Bob 
stingy? We have bread and cheese!" Another added, "We have 
steak and beer, and I've the use of Bill's (the master's) 'baccy 
box." ' 

Some of these lads are paid by the day, generally from 2d. or 
3d. and their food, and as much fruit as they think fit to eat, as by 
that they soon get sick of it. They generally carry home fruit in 
their pockets for their playmates, or brothers, or sisters; the coster- 
mongers allow this, if they are satisfied that the pocketing is not 
for sale. Some lads are engaged by the week, having from Is. to 
Is 6d., and their food when out with their employer. Their lodging 
is found only in a few cases, and then they sleep in the same room 
with their master and mistress. Of master or mistress, however, 
they never speak, but of Jack and Bet. They behave respectfully 
to the women, who are generally kind to them. They soon desert a 
very surly or stingy master; though such a fellow could get fifty 
boys next day if he wanted them, but not lads used to the trade, for 
to these he's well known by their talk one with another, and they 
soon tell a man his character very plainly — 'very plainly indeed, 
sir, and to his face too,' said one. 

Some of these boys are well beaten by their employers; this they 
put up with readily enough, if they experience kindness at the 
hands of the man's wife; for, as I said before, parties that have 

80 Mayhem's London 

never thought of marriage, if they live together, call one another 
husbands and wives. 

In 'working the country' these lads are put on the same footing 
as their masters, with whom they eat, drink, and sleep; but they 
do not gamble with them. A few, however, go out and tempt 
country boys to gamble, and — as an almost inevitable consequence 
— to lose. 'Some of the boys,' said one who had seen it often, 'will 
keep a number of countrymen in a beer-shop in a roar for the hour, 
while the countrymen ply them with beer, and some of the street- 
lads can drink a good deal. I've known three bits of boys order a pot 
of beer each, one after the other, each paying his share, and a quar- 
tern of gin each after that — drunk neat; they don't understand 
water. Drink doesn't seem to affect them as it does men. I don't 
know why.' 'Some costermongers,' said another informant, 'have 
been known, when they've taken a fancy to a boy — I know of 
two — to dress him out like themselves, silk handkerchiefs and all; 
for if they didn't find them silk handkerchiefs, the boys would soon 
get them out of their "bunts". They like silk handkerchiefs, for if 
they lose all their money gambling, they can pledge their hand- 

I have mentioned the term 'bunts'. Bunts is the money made by 
the boys in this manner: — If a costermonger, after having sold a 
sufficiency, has 2s. or 3s. worth of goods left, and is anxious to get 
home, he says to the boy, 'Work these streets, and bring me 2s. Qd. 
for the tol' (lot), which the costermonger knows by his eye — for 
he seldoms measures or counts — is easily worth that money. The 
lad then proceeds to sell the things entrusted to him, and often 
shows great ingenuity in so doing. If, for instance, turnips be tied up 
in penny bunches, the lad will open some of them, so as to spread 
them out to nearly twice their previous size, and if anyone ask if 
that be a penn'orth, he will say, 'Here's a larger for l^d., marm,' 
and so palm off a penny bunch at \\d. Out of each bunch of onions 
he takes one or two, and makes an extra bunch. All that the lad 
can make in this way over the half-crown is his own, and called 
'bunts.' Boys have made from 6d. to Is 6d. 'bunts,' and this day 
after day. Many of them will, in the course of their traffic, beg old 
boots or shoes, if they meet with better sort of people, and so 'work 
it to rights,' as they call it among themselves; servants often give 
them cast-off clothes. It is seldom that a boy carries home less than 

Mayhem's London 8 1 

the stipulated sum. The above is what is understood as 'fair bunts.' 
'Unfair bunts' is what the lad may make unknown to his master; 
as, if a customer call from the area for goods cried at 2d., the lad 
may get 2\d., by pretending what he had carried was a superior 
sort to that called at 2d., — or by any similar trick. 

'I have known some civil and industrious boys,' said a coster- 
monger to me, 'get to save a few shillings, and in six months start 
with a shallow, and so rise to a donkey-cart. The greatest drawback 
to struggling boys is their sleeping in low lodging-houses, where 
they are frequently robbed, or trepanned to part with their money, 
or else they get corrupted.' 


Among the costers the term education is (as I have already inti- 
mated) merely understood as meaning a complete knowledge of the 
art of 'buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest.' 
There are few lads whose training extends beyond this. The father 
is the tutor, who takes the boy to the different markets, instructs 
him in the art of buying, and when the youth is perfect on this 
point, the parent's duty is supposed to have been performed. Nearly 
all these boys are remarkable for their precocious sharpness. To use 
the words of one of the class, 'these young ones are as sharp as 
terriers, and learns every dodge of the business in less than no time. 
There's one I knows about three feet high, that's up to the business 
as clever as a man of thirty. Though he's only twelve years old he'll 
chaff down a peeler so uncommon severe, that the only way to stop 
him is to take him in charge!' 

As soon as the boy is old enough to shout well and loudly, 
his father takes him into the streets. Some of these youths are not 
above seven years of age, and it is calculated that not more than 
one in a hundred has ever been to a school of any kind. The boy 
walks with the barrow, or guides the donkey, shouting by turns 
with the father, who, when the goods are sold, will as a reward, 
let him ride home on the tray. The lad attends all markets 
with his father, who teaches him his business and shows him 
his tricks of trade; 'for,' said a coster, 'a governor in our lino 
leaves the knowledge of all his dodges to his son, jist as the rich 
coves do their tin.' 

8 2 Mayhew^s London 

The life of a coster-boy is a very hard one. In summer he will 
have to be up by four o'clock in the morning, and in winter he is 
never in bed after six. When he has returned from market, it is 
generally Ins duty to wash the goods and help dress the barrow. 
About nine he begins his day's work, shouting whilst his father 
pushes; and as very often the man has lost his voice, this share of the 
labour is left entirely to him. When a coster has regular customers, 
the vegetables or fish are all sold by twelve o'clock, and in many 
coster families the lad is then packed off with fruit to hawk in the 
streets. When the work is over, the father will perhaps take the boy 
to a public-house with him, and give him part of his beer. Some- 
times a child of four or five is taken to the tap-room, especially if he 
be pretty and the father proud of him. 'I have seen,' said a coster to 
me, 'a baby of five year old reeling drunk in a tap-room. His 
governor did it for the lark of the tiling, to see him chuck hisself 
about — silly fied like.' 

The love of gambling soon seizes upon the coster boy. Youths of 
about twelve or so will as soon as they can get away from work go to 
a public-house and play cribbage for pints of beer, or for a pint a 
corner. They generally continue playing till about midnight, and 
rarely — except on a Sunday — keep it up all night. 

It ordinarily happens that when a lad is about thirteen, he 
quarrels with his father, and gets turned away from home. Then he 
is forced to start for himself. He knows where he can borrow stock- 
money and get his barrow, for he is as well acquainted with the 
markets as the oldest hand at the business, and children may often 
be seen in the streets under-selling their parents. 'How's it possible,' 
said a woman, 'for people to live when there's their own son at the 
end of the court a-calling his goods as cheap again as we can afford 
to sell ourn?' 

If a boy is lucky in trade, his next want is to get a girl to keep 
home for him. I was assured, that it is not at all uncommon for a 
lad of fifteen to be living with a girl of the same age, as man and 
wife. It creates no disgust among his class, but seems rather to give 
him a position among such people. Their courtship does not take 
long when once the mate has been fixed upon. The girl is invited 
to 'raffles,' and treated to 'twopenny hops' and half-pints of beer. 
Perhaps a silk neck handkerchief — a 'King's man' — is given as a 
present; though some of the lads will, when the arrangement has 

Mayhew's London 8 3 

been made, take the gift back again and wear it themselves. The 
boys are very jealous, and if once made angry behave with great 
brutality to the offending girl. A j-oung fellow of about sixteen told 
me, as he seemed to grow angrj^ at the very thought, 'If I seed my 
gal talking to another chap I'd fetch her sich a punch of the nose 
as should plaguy quick stop the whole business.' Another lad 
informed me, with a knowing look, 'that the gals — it was a rum 
thing now he come to think on it — axully liked a feller for walloping 
them. As long as the bruises hurted, she was always thinking on 
the cove as gived 'em her.' After a time, if the girl continues faith- 
ful, the young coster may marry her; but tins is rarely the case, and 
many live with their girls until they have grown to men, or perhaps 
they may quarrel the very first year, and have a fight and part. 

These boys hate any continuous work. So strong is this objection 
to continuity that they cannot even remain selling the same article 
for more than a week together. Moreover none of them can be got 
to keep stalls. They must be perpetually on the move — or to use 
their own words 'they like a roving life.' They all of them delight 
in dressing 'flash' as they call it. If a 'governor' was to try and 
'palm off' his old cord jacket upon the lad that worked with him, 
the boy wouldn't take it. 'It's too big and seedy for me,' he'd say, 
'and I ain't going to have your leavings.' They try to dress like the 
men, with large pockets in their cord jackets and plenty of them. 
Their trousers too must fit tight at the knee, and their boots they 
like as good as possible. A good 'King's-man,' a plush skull cap, 
and a seam down the trousers are the great points of ambition with 
the coster boys. 

A lad of about fourteen informed me that 'brass buttons, hke 
a huntsman's, with foxes' heads on 'em, looked stunning flash, 
and the gals liked 'em.' As for the hair, they say it ought to be 
long in front, and done in 'figure-six' curls, or twisted back to the 
ear 'Newgate-knocker style.' 'But the worst of hair is,' they add, 
'that it is always getting cut off in quod, all along of muzzling 
the bobbies.' 

The whole of the coster-boys are fond of good living. I was told 
that when a lad started for himself, he would for the first week or so 
live almost entirely on cakes and nuts. When settled in business they 
always manage to have what they call 'a relish' for breakfast and 
tea, 'a couple of herrings, or a bit of bacon, or what not.' Many 

84 Mayhew^s London 

of them never dine excepting on the Sunday — the pony and donkey 
proprietors being the only costers whose incomes will permit them 
to indulge in a 'fourpenny plate of meat at a cook's shop.' The 
whole of the boys too are extremely fond of pudding, and should 
the 'plum duff' at an eating-house contain an unusual quantity 
of plums, the news soon spreads, and the boys then endeavour to 
work that way so as to obtain a slice. While waiting for a market, 
the lads will very often spend a shilling on the cakes and three- 
cornered puffs sold by the Jews. The owners toss for them, and so 
enable the young coster to indulge his two favourite passions at the 
same time — his love of pastry, and his love of gambling. The Jews' 
crisp butter biscuits also rank very high with the boys, who declare 
that they 'slip down like soapsuds down a gully hole.' In fact it is 
curious to notice how perfectly unrestrained are the passions and 
appetites of these youths. The only thoughts that trouble them are 
for their girls, their eating and their gambling — beyond the love of 
self they have no tie that binds them to existence. 


One lad that I spoke to gave me as much of his history as he could 
remember. He was a tall stout boy, about sixteen years old, with a 
face utterly vacant. His two heavy lead-coloured eyes stared un- 
meaningly at me, and, beyond a constant anxiety to keep his front 
lock curled on his cheek, he did not exhibit the slightest trace of 
feeling. He sank into his seat heavily and of a heap, and when once 
settled down he remained motionless, with his mouth open and his 
hands on his knees — almost as if paralyzed. He was dressed in all 
the slang beauty of his class, with a bright red handkerchief and 
unexceptionable boots. 

'My father,' he told me in a thick unimpassioned voice, 'was a 
waggoner, and worked the country roads. There was two on us at 
home with mother, and we used to play along with the boys of our 
court, in Golding-lane, at buttons and marbles. I recollects nothing 
more than this — only the big boys used to cheat like bricks and 
thump us if we grumbled — that's all I recollects of my infancy, as 
you calls it. Father I've heard tell died when I was three and brother 
only a year old. It was worse luck for us! — Mother was so easy with 
us. I once went to school for a couple of weeks, but the cove used 

Mayhew's London 85 

to fetch me a wipe over the knuckles with his stick, and as I wasn't 
going to stand that there, why you see I ain't no great schollard. 
We did as we liked with mother, she was so precious easy, and I 
never learned anything but playing buttons and making leaden 
"bonces," that's all,' (here the youth laughed slightly). 'Mother 
used to be up and out very early washing in families — anything for 
a living. She was a good mother to us. We was left at home with 
the key of the room and some bread and butter for dinner. Afore 
she got into work — and it was a goodish long time — we was shock- 
ing hard up, and she pawned nigh ever3"thing. Sometimes, when we 
hadn't no grub at all, the other lads, perhaps, would give us some 
of their bread and butter, but often our stomachs used to ache with 
the hunger, and we would cry when we was werry far gone. She 
used to be at work from six in the morning till ten o'clock at night, 
which was a long time for a child's belly to hold out again, and 
when it was dark we would go and lie down on the bed and try and 
sleep until she came home with the food. I was eight year old then. 

'A man as know'd mother, said to her, "Your boy's got nothing 
to do, let him come along with me and yarn a few ha'pence," and 
so I became a coster. He gave me 4d. a morning and my breakfast. 
I worked with him about three year, until I learnt the markets, 
and then I and brother got baskets of our own, and used to keep 
mother. One day with another, the two on us together could make 
2s. 6d. by selling greens of a morning, and going round to the 
publics with nuts of a evening, till about ten o'clock at night. 
Mother used to have a bit of fried meat or a stew ready for us when 
we got home, and by using up the stock as we couldn't sell, we 
used to manage pretty tidy. When I was fourteen I took up with 
a girl. She lived in the same house as we did, and I used to walk out 
of a night with her and give her half-pints of beer at the publics. 
She were about thirteen, and used to dress werry nice, though she 
weren't above middling pretty. Now I'm working for another man 
as gives me a shilling a week, victuals, washing, and lodging, just 
as if I was one of the family. 

'On a Sunday I goes out selling, and all I yarns I keeps. As for 
going to church, why, I can't afford it, — besides, to tell the truth, I 
don't like it well enough. Plays, too, ain't in my line much; I'd 
sooner go to a dance? — it's more livelier. The "penny gaffs" is rather 
more in my style; the songs are out and out, and makes our gals 

86 Mayhew's London 

laugh. The smuttier the better, I thinks; bless you! the gals likes it 
as much as we do. If we lads ever has a quarrel, why, we fights for 
it. If I was to let a cove off once, he'd do it again; but I never give 
a lad a chance, so long as I can get anigh him. I never heard about 
Christianity; but if a cove was to fetch me a lick of the head, I'd 
give it him again, whether he was a big 'un or a little 'un. I'd 
precious soon see a henemy of mine shot afore I'd forgive him, — 
where's the use? Do I understand what behaving to your neigh- 
bour is? — In coorse I do. If a feller as lives next me wanted a basket 
of mine as I wasn't using, why, he might have it; if I was working 
it though, I'd see him further! I can understand that all as fives in 
a court is neighbours; but as for policemen, they're nothing to me, 
and I should like to pay 'em all off well. No; I never heerd about 
this here creation you speaks about. In coorse God Almighty made 
the world, and the poor bricklayers' labourers built the houses 
arterwards — that's my opinion; but I can't say, for I've never been 
in no schools, only always hard at work, and knows nothing about 
it. I have heered a little about our Saviour, — they seem to say he 
were a goodish kind of man; but if he says as how a cove's to forgive 
a feller as hits you, I should say he know'd nothing about it. In 
coorse the gals and lads goes and lives with thinks our walloping 
'em wery cruel of us, but we don't. Why don't we? — why, because 
we don't. Before father died, I used sometimes to say my prayers, 
but after that mother was too busy getting a living to mind about 
my praying. Yes, I knows! — in the Lord's prayer they says, "For- 
give us our trespasses, as we forgive them as trespasses agin us." 
It's a very good thing, in coorse, but no costers can't do it.' 


In many of the thoroughfares of London there are shops which 
have been turned into a kind of temporary theatre (admission one 
penny), where dancing and singing take place every night. Rude 
pictures of the performers are arranged outside, to give the front 
a gaudy and attractive look, and at night-time coloured lamps 
and transparencies are displayed to draw an audience. These places 
are called by the costers 'Penny Gaffs'; and on a Monday night as 
many as six performances will take place, each one having its two 
hundred visitors. 

Mayhew's London 87 

Not wishing to believe in the description which some of the 
more intelligent of the costermongers had given of these places, it 
was thought better to visit one of them, so that all exaggeration 
might be avoided. One of the least offensive of the exhibitions was 
fixed upon. 

The 'penny gaff' chosen was situated in a broad street near 
Smithfield; and for a great distance off, the jingling sound of music 
was heard, and the gas-light streamed out into the thick night air 
as from a dark lantern, glittering on the windows of the houses 
opposite, and lighting up the faces of the mob in the road, as on 
an illumination night. The front of a large shop had been entirely 
removed, and the entrance was decorated with paintings of the 
'comic singers,' in their most 'humourous' attitudes. On a table 
against the wall was perched the band, playing what the costers 
call 'dancing tunes' with great effect, for the hole at the money- 
taker's box was blocked up with hands tendering the penny. The 
crowd without was so numerous, that a policeman was in attend- 
ance to preserve order, and push the boys off the pavement — the 
music having the effect of drawing them insensibly towards the 
festooned green-baize curtain. 

The shop itself had been turned into a waiting-room, and was 
crowded even to the top of the stairs leading to the gallery on the 
first floor. The ceiling of this 'lobby 'was painted blue, and spotted 
with whitewash clouds, to represent the heavens; the boards of the 
trap-door, and the laths that showed through the holes in the 
plaster, being all the same colour. A notice was here posted, over 
the canvas door leading into the theatre, to the effect that 'Ladies 
and Gentlemen to the front places must pay Twopence.' 

The visitors, with a few exceptions, were all boys and girls, 
whose ages seemed to vary from eight to twenty years. Some of the 
girls — though their figures showed them to be mere children — 
were dressed in showy cotton-velvet polkas, and wore dowdy 
feathers in their crushed bonnets. They stood laughing and joking 
with the lads, in an unconcerned, impudent manner, that was 
almost appalling. Some of them, when tired of waiting, chose their 
partners, and commenced dancing grotesquely, to the admiration 
of the lookers-on, who expressed their approbation in obscene 
terms, that, far from disgusting the poor little women, were re- 
ceived as compliments, and acknowledged with smiles and coarse 

8 8 Mayhem? s London 

repartees. The boys clustered together, smoking their pipes, and 
laughing at each other's anecdotes, or else jingling halfpence in time 
with the tune, while they whistled an accompaniment to it. Pres- 
ently one of the performers, with a gilt crown on his well greased 
locks, descended from the staircase, his fleshings covered by a dingy 
dressing-gown, and mixed with the mob, shaking hands with old 
acquaintances. The 'comic singer' too, made his appearance among 
the throng — the huge bow to his cravat, which nearly covered his 
waistcoat, and the red end to his nose, exciting neither merriment 
nor surprise. 

To discover the kind of entertainment, a lad near me and my 
companion was asked 'if there was any flash dancing.' With a 
knowing wink the boy answered, 'Lots! show their legs and all, 
prime!' and immediately the boy followed up his information by 
a request for a 'yenep' to get a 'tib of occabat.' After waiting in 
the lobby some considerable time, the performance inside was 
concluded, and the audience came pouring out through the canvas 
door. As they had to pass singly, I noticed them particularly. Above 
three-fourths of them were women and girls, the rest consisting 
chiefly of mere boys — for out of about two hundred persons I 
counted only eighteen men. Forward they came, bringing an over- 
powering stench with them, laughing and yelling as they pushed 
their way through the waiting-room. One woman carrying a sickly 
child with a bulging forehead, was reeling drunk, the saliva running 
down her mouth as she stared about her with a heavy fixed eye. 
Two boys were pushing her from side to side, while the poor infant 
slept, breathing heavily, as if stupefied, through the din. Lads 
jumping on girls' shoulders, and girls laughing hysterically from 
being tickled by the youth behind them, every one shouting and 
jumping, presented a mad scene of frightful enjoyment. 

When these had left, a rush for places by those in waiting began, 
that set at defiance the blows and struggles of a lady in spangles 
who endeavoured to preserve order and take the checks. As time 
was a great object with the proprietor, the entertainment within 
began directly the first seat was taken, so that the lads without, 
rendered furious by the rattling of the piano within, made the 
canvas partition bulge in and out, with the strugglings of those 
seeking admission, like a sail in a flagging wind. 

To form the theatre, the first floor had been removed; the white- 

Mayhem's London 89 

washed beams however still stretched from wall to wall. The lower 
room had evidently been the warehouse, while the upper apart- 
ment had been the sitting-room, for the paper was still on the walls. 
A gallery, with a canvas front, had been hurriedly built up, and 
it was so fragile that the boards bent under the weight of those 
above. The bricks in the warehouse were smeared over with red 
paint, and had a few black curtains daubed upon them. The coster- 
youths require no very great scenic embellishment, and indeed the 
stage — which was about eight feet square — could admit of none. 
Two jets of gas, like those outside a butcher's shop, were placed on 
each side of the proscenium, and proved very handy for the gentle- 
men whose pipes required lighting. The band inside the 'theatre' 
could not compare with the band without. An old grand piano, 
whose canvas-covered top extended the entire length of the stage, 
sent forth its wiry notes under the be-ringed fingers of a 'professor 
Wilkinsini,' while another professional, with his head resting on 
his violin, played vigorously, as he stared unconcernedly at the 
noisy audience. 

Singing and dancing formed the whole of the hour's performance, 
and, of the two, the singing was preferred. A young girl, of about 
fourteen years of age, danced with more energy than grace, and 
seemed to be well-known to the spectators, who cheered her on by 
her Christian name. When the dance was concluded, the proprietor 
of the establishment threw down a penny from the gallery, in the 
hopes that others might be moved to similar acts of generosity; 
but no one followed up the offering, so the young lady hunted after 
the money and departed. The 'comic singer' in a battered hat and 
the huge bow to his cravat, was received with deafening shouts. 
Several songs were named by the costers, but the 'funny gentleman' 
merely requested them 'to hold their jaws,' and putting on a 
knowing look, sang a song, the whole point of which consisted in 
the mere utterance of some filthy word at the end of each stanza. 
Nothing, however, could have been more successful. The lads 
stamped their feet with delight; the girls screamed witli enjoy- 
ment. Onoe or twice a young shrill laugh would anticipate the fun 
— as if the words wero well known — or the boys would forestall the 
point by shouting it out before the proper time. When the song was 
ended the house was in a delirium of applause. The canvas front to 
the gallery was beaten with sticks, drum-like, and sent down show- 

90 Mayhevfs London 

ers of white powder on the heads in the pit. Another song followed, 
and the actor knowing on what his success depended, lost no oppor- 
tunity of increasing his laurels. The most obscene thoughts, the 
most disgusting scenes were coolly described, making a poor child 
near me wipe away the tears that rolled down her eyes with the 
enjoyment of the poison. There were three or four of these songs 
sung in the course of the evening, each one being encored, and then 
changed. One written about 'Pine-apple rock,' was the grand treat 
of the night, and offered greater scope to the rhyming powers of the 
author than any of the others. In this, not a single chance had been 
missed; ingenuity had been exerted to its utmost lest an obscene 
thought should be passed by, and it was absolutely awful to behold 
the relish with which the young ones jumped to the hideous 
meaning of the verses. 

There was one scene yet to come, that was perfect in its wicked- 
ness. A ballet began between a man dressed up as a woman, and a 
country clown. The most disgusting attitudes were struck, the most 
immoral acts represented, without one dissenting voice. If there 
had been any feat of agility, any grimacing, or, in fact, anything 
with which the laughter of the uneducated classes is usually asso- 
ciated, the applause might have been accounted for; but here were 
two ruffians degrading themselves each time they stirred a limb, 
and forcing into the brains of the childish audience before them 
thoughts that must embitter a lifetime, and descend from father to 
child like some bodily infirmity. 


The costermongers, taken as a body, entertain the most imperfect 
idea of the sanctity of marriage. To their undeveloped minds it 
merely consists in the fact of a man and woman living together, 
and sharing the gains they may each earn by selling in the street. 
The father and mother of the girl look upon it as a convenient 
means of shifting the support of their child over to another's exer- 
tions; and so thoroughly do they believe this to be the end and aim 
of matrimony, that the expense of a church ceremony is considered 
as a useless waste of money, and the new pair are received by their 
companions as cordially as if every form of law and religion had 
been complied with. 

Mayheiv's London 9 1 

The story of one coster girl's life may be taken as a type of the 
many. When quite young she is placed out to nurse with some 
neighbour, the mother — if a fond one — visiting the child at certain 
periods of the day, for the purpose of feeding it, or sometimes, 
knowing the round she has to make, having the infant brought to 
her at certain places, to be 'suckled.' As soon as it is old enough to 
go alone, the court is its play-ground, the gutter its school-room, 
and under the care of an elder sister the little one passes the day, 
among children whose mothers like her own are too busy out in the 
streets helping to get the food, to be able to mind the family at 
home. When the girl is strong enough, she in her turn is made to 
assist the mother by keeping guard over the younger children, or, 
if there be none, she is lent out to carry about a baby, and so made 
to add to the family income by gaining her sixpence weekly. Her 
time is from the earliest years fully occupied; indeed, her parents 
cannot afford to keep her without doing and getting something. Very 
few of the children receive the least education. 'The parents,' I am 
told, 'never give their minds to learning, for they say, "What's the 
use of it? that won't yarn a gal a living." ' Everything is sacrificed — 
as, indeed, under the circumstances it must be — in the struggle to 
live — aye! and to live merely. Mind, heart, soul, are all absorbed in 
the belly. The rudest form of animal life, physiologists tell us, is 
simply a locomotive stomach. Verily, it would appear as if our social 
state had a tendency to make the highest animal sink to the lowest. 

At about seven years of age the girls first go into the streets to 
sell. A shallow-basket is given to them, with about two shillings for 
stock-money, and they hawk, according to the time of year, either 
oranges, apples, or violets; some begin their street education with 
the sale of water- cresses. The money earned by this means is strictly 
given to the parents. Sometimes — though rarely — a girl who has 
been unfortunate during the day will not dare return home at 
night, and then she will sleep under some dry arch or about some 
market, until the morrow's gains shall ensure her a safe reception 
and shelter in her father's room. 

The life of the coster-girls is as severe as that of the boys. Between 
four and five in the morning they have to leave home for the 
markets, and sell in the streets until about nine. Those that have 
more kindly parents, return then to breakfast, but many are obliged 
to earn the morning's meal for themselves. After breakfast, they 

92 Mayhew's London 

generally remain in the streets until about ten o'clock at night; 
many having nothing during all that time but one meal of bread 
and butter and coffee, to enable them to support the fatigue of 
walking from street to street with the heavy basket on their heads. 
In the course of a day, some girls eat as much as a pound of 
bread, and very seldom get any meat, unless it be on a Sunday. 


I wished to have obtained a statement from the girl whose portrait 
is here given, but she was afraid to give the slightest information 
about the habits of her companions, lest they should recognize her 
by her engraving and persecute her for the revelations she might 
make. After disappointing me some dozen times, I was forced to 
seek out some other coster girl. 

The one I fixed upon was a fine-grown young woman of eighteen. 
She had a habit of curtsying to every question that was put to her. 
Her plaid shawl was tied over the breast, and her cotton-velvet 
bonnet was crushed in with carrying her basket. She seemed dread- 
fully puzzled where to put her hands, at one time tucking them 
under her shawl, warming them at the fire, or measuring the length 
of her apron, and when she answered a question she invariably 
addressed the fireplace. Her voice was husky from shouting apples. 

'My mother has been in the streets selling all her lifetime. Her 
uncle learnt her the markets and she learnt me. When business 
grew bad she said to me, "Now you shall take care on the stall, and 
I'll go and work out charing." The way she learnt me the markets 
was to judge the weight of the baskets of apples, and then said she, 
"Always bate 'em down, a'most a half." I always liked the street- 
life very well, that was if I was selling. I have mostly kept a stall 
myself, but I've known gals as walk about with apples, as have told 
me that the weight of the baskets is sich that the neck cricks, and 
when the load is took off, it's just as if you'd a stiff neck, and the 
head feels as light as a feather. The gals begins working very early 
at our work; the parents makes them go out when a'most babies. 
There's a little gal, I'm sure she ain't more than half- past seven, that 
stands selling water-cresses next my stall, and mother was saying, 
"Only look there, how that little one has to get her living afore 
she a'most knows what a penn'orth means." 

Mayhew ^sJLon&on 9 3 

'There's six on us in family, and father and mother makes eight. 
Father used to do odd jobs with the gas-pipes in the streets, and 
when work was slack we had very hard times of it. Mother always 
liked being with us at home, and used to manage to keep us employ- 
ed out of mischief — she'd give us an old gown to make into 
pinafores for the children and such like! She's been very good to us, 
has mother, and so's father. She always liked to hear us read to her 
whilst she was washing or such like! and then we big ones had to 
learn the little ones. But when father's work got slack, if she had no 
employment charing, she'd say, "Now I'll go and buy a bushel of 
apples," and then she'd turn out and get a penny that way. I sup- 
pose by sitting at the stall from nine in the morning till the shops 
shut up — say ten o'clock at night, I can earn about IsSd. a day. It's 
all according to the apples — whether they're good or not — what we 
makes. If I'm unlucky, mother will say, "Well, I'll go out to-mor- 
row and see what / can do"; and if I've done well, she'll say "Come, 
you're a good hand at it; you've done famous." Yes mother's very 
fair that way. Ah! there's many a gal I knows whose back has to 
suffer if she don't sell her stock well; but, thank God! I never get 
more than a blowing up. My parents is very fair to me. 

'I dare say there ain't ten out of a hundred gals what's living 
with men, what's been married Church of England fashion. I know 
plenty myself, but I don't, indeed, think it right. It seems to me that 
the gals is fools to be 'ticed away, but, in coorse, they needn't go 
without they likes. This is why I don't think it's right. Perhaps a 
man will have a few words with his gal, and he'll say, "Oh! I ain't 
obligated to keep her!" and he'll turn her out: and then where's 
that poor gal to go ? Now, there's a gal I knows as came to me no 
later than this here week, and she had a dreadful swole face and a 
awful black eye; and I says, "Who's done that?" and she says, says 
she, "Why, Jack" — just in that way; and then she says, says she, 
"I'm going to take a warrant out to-morrow." Well, he gets the 
warrant that same night, but she never appears again him, for 
fear of getting more beating. That don't seem to me to be like 
married people ought to be. Besides, if parties is married, they 
ought to bend to each other; and they won't, for sartain, if they're 
only living together. A man as is married is obligated to keep his 
wife if they quarrels or not; and he says to himself, says he, "Well, 
I may as well live happy, like." But if he can turn a poor gal off, 

94 Mayhew^s London 

as soon as he tires of her, he begins to have noises with her, and 
then gets quit of her altogether. Again, the men takes the money 
of the gals, and in coorse ought to treat 'em well — which they don't. 
This is another reason: when the gal is in the family way, the lads 
mostly sends them to the workhouse to lay in, and only goes some- 
times to take them a bit of tea and shuggar; but, in course, married 
men wouldn't behave in such lilies to their poor wives. After a 
quarrel, too, a lad goes and takes up with another young gal, and 
that isn't pleasant for the first one. The first step to ruin is them 
places of "penny gaffs," for they hears things there as oughtn't to be 
said to young gals. Besides, the lads is very insinivating, and after 
leaving them places will give a gal a drop of beer, and make hei 
half tipsy, and then they makes their arrangements. I've often 
heerd the boys boasting of having ruined gals, for all the world as 
if they was the first noblemen in the land. 

'It would be a good thing if these sort of goings on could be 
stopped. It's half the parents' fault; for if a gal can't get a living, 
they turns her out into the streets, and then what's to become of 
her? I'm sure the gals, if they was married, would be happier, 
because they couldn't be beat worse. And if they was married, 
they'd get a nice home about 'em; whereas, if they's only living 
together, they takes a furnished room. I'm sure, too, that it's a bad 
plan; for I've heerd the gals themselves say, "Ah! I wish I'd never 
seed Jack" (or Tom, or whatever it is); "I'm sure I'd never be half 
so bad but for him." 


We pass to a consideration of their dress. 

The costermonger's ordinary costume partakes of the durability 
of the warehouseman's, with the quaintness of that of the stable- 
boy. A well-to-do 'coster,' when dressed for the day's work, 
usually wears a small cloth cap, a little on one side. A close-fitting 
worsted tie-up skull-cap, is very fashionable, just now, among the 
class, and ringlets at the temples are looked up to as the height of 
elegance. Hats they never wear — excepting on Sunday — on account 
of their baskets being frequently carried on their heads. Coats are 
seldom indulged in; their waistcoats, which are of a broad-ribbed 
corduroy, with fustian back and sleeves, being made as long as a 

Mayhew's London 95 

groom's, and buttoned up nearly to the throat. If the corduroy be 
of a light sandy colour, then plain brass, or sporting buttons, with 
raised fox's or stag's heads upon them — or else black bone- buttons, 
with a liower-pattern — ornament the front; but if the cord be of 
a dark rat-skin hue, then mother-of-pearl buttons are preferred. 
Two large pockets — sometimes four — with huge flaps or lappels, 
like those in a shooting- coat, are commonly worn. If the coster- 
monger be driving a good trade and have his set of regular cus- 
tomers, he will sport a blue cloth jacket, similar in cut to the cord 
ones above described; but this is looked upon as an extravagance of 
the highest order, for the shme and scales of the fish stick to the 
sleeves and shoulders of the garment, so as to spoil the appearance 
of it in a short time. The fashionable stuff for trousers, at the pres- 
ent, is a dark-coloured 'cable-cord,' and they are made to fit tightly 
at the knee and swell gradually until they reach the boot, which 
they nearly cover. Velveteen is now seldom worn, and knee- 
breeches are quite out of date. Those who deal wholly in fish wear 
a blue serge apron, either hanging down or tucked up around their 
waist. The costermonger, however, prides himself most of all upon 
his neckerchief and boots. Men, women, boys and girls, all have a 
passion for these articles. The man who does not wear his silk 
neckerchief — his 'King's-man' as it is called — is known to be in 
desperate circumstances; the inference being that it has gone to 
supply the morning's stock-money. A yellow flower on a green 
ground, or a red and blue pattern, is at present greatly in vogue. 
The women wear their kerchiefs tucked-in under their gowns, and 
the men have theirs wrapped loosely round the neck, with the 
ends hanging over their waistcoats. Even if a costermonger has two 
or three silk handkerchiefs by him already, he seldom hesitates to 
buy another, when tempted with a bright showy pattern hanging 
from a Field-lane door-post. 

The costermonger's love of a good strong boot is a singular 
prejudice that runs throughout the whole class. From the father 
to the youngest child, all will be found well shod. So strong is their 
predilection in this respect, that a costermonger may be immedi- 
ately known by a glance at his feet. He will part with everything 
rather than his boots, and to wear a pair of second-hand ones, or 
'translators' (as they are called), is felt as a bitter degradation by 
them all. Among the men, this pride has risen to such a pitch, that 

96 Mayhem 's London 

many will have their upper-leathers tastily ornamented, and it is 
not uncommon to see the younger men of this class with a heart or a 
thistle, surrounded by a wreath of roses, worked below the instep, 
on their boots. The general costume of the women or girls is a black 
velveteen or straw bonnet, with a few ribbons or flowers, and almost 
always a net cap fitting closely to the cheek. The silk 'King's-man' 
covering their shoulders, is sometimes tucked into the neck of the 
printed cotton-gown, and sometimes the ends are brought down 
outside to the apron-strings. Silk dresses are never worn by them — 
they rather despise such articles. The petticoats are worn short, 
ending at the ankles, just high enough to show the whole of the 
much-admired boots. Coloured, or 'illustrated shirts,' as they are 
called, are especially objected to by the men. 

On the Sunday no costermonger will, if he can possibly avoid it, 
wheel a barrow. If a shilling be an especial object to him, he may, 
perhaps, take his shallow and head-basket as far as Chalk-farm, or 
some neighbouring resort; but even then he objects strongly to the 
Sunday-trading. They leave this to the Jews and Irish, who are 
always willing to earn a penny — as they say. 

The prosperous coster will have his holiday on the Sunday, and, 
if possible, his Sunday suit as well — which usually consists of a 
rough beaver hat, brown Petersham, with velvet facings of the 
same colour, and cloth trousers, with stripes down the side. The 
women, generally, manage to keep by them a cotton gown of a 
bright showy pattern, and a new shawl. As one of the craft said to 
me — 'Costers likes to see their gals and wives look lady-like when 
they takes them out.' Such of the costers as are not in a flourishing 
way of business, seldom make any alteration in their dress on the 
Sunday. There are but five tailors in London who make the garb 
proper to costermongers; one of these is considered somewhat 
'slop,' or as a coster called him, a 'springer-up.' 

This springer-up is blamed by some of the costermongers, who 
condemn him for employing women at reduced wages. A whole 
court of costermongers, I was assured, would withdraw their custom 
from a tradesman, if one of their body, who had influence among 
them, showed that the tradesman was unjust to his workpeople. 
The tailor in question issues bills after the following fashion. I 
give one verbatim, merely withholding the address for obvious 

Mayhew's London 97 


Slap-up Tog and out-and-out Kicksies Builder. 

Mr. nabs the chance of putting his customers awake, that he 

has just made his escape from Russia, not forgetting to clap his 
mawleys upon some of the right sort of Ducks, to make single and 
double backed Slops for gentlemen in black, when on his return 
home he was stunned to find one of the top manufacturers of 
Manchester had cut his lucky and stepped off to the Swan Stream, 
leaving behind him a valuable stock of Moleskins, Cords, Velve- 
teens, Plushes, Swandowns, &c, and I having some ready in my 
kick, grabbed the chance, and stepped home with my swag, and 
am now safe landed at my crib. I can turn out toggery of every 
description very slap up, at the following low prices for 

Ready Gilt — Tick being no go. 

Upper Benjamins, built on a downey plan, a monarch to half a 
flnnuff. Slap up Velveteen Togs, lined with the same, 1 pound 

1 quarter and a peg. Moleskin ditto, any colour, lined with the 
same, 1 couter. A pair of Kerseymere Kicksies, any colour, built 
very slap up, with the artful dodge, a canary. Pair of stout Cord 
ditto, built in the "Melton Mowbray" style half a sov. Pair of very 
good broad Cord ditto, made very saucy, 9 bob and a kick. Pair 
of long sleeve Moleskin, all colours, built hanky-spanky, with a 
double fakement down the side and artful buttons at bottom, half 
a monarch. Pair of stout ditto, built very serious, 9 times. Pair of 
out-and-out fancy sleeve Kicksies, cut to drop down on the trotters, 

2 bulls. Waist Togs, cut long, with moleskin back and sleeves, 
10 peg. Blue Cloth ditto, cut slap, with pearl buttons, 14 peg. 
Mud Pipes, Knee Caps, and Trotter Cases, built very low. 

'A decent allowance made to Seedy Swells, Tea Kettle Purgers, 
Head Robbers, and Flunkeys out of Collar. 

'N. B. Gentlemen finding their own Broady can be accom- 


It is less easy to describe the diet of costermongers than it is to 
describe that of many other of the labouring classes, for their diet, 

98 Mayhew^s London 

so to speak, is an 'out-door diet.' They breakfast at a coffee-stall, 
and (if all their means have been expended in purchasing their 
stock, and none of it be yet sold) they expend on the meal only Id., 
reserved for the purpose. For this sum they can procure a small 
cup of coffee, and two 'thin' (that is to say two thin slices of bread 
and butter). For dinner — which on a week-day is hardly ever eaten 
at the costermonger's abode — they buy 'block ornaments,' as they 
call the small, dark- coloured pieces of meat exposed on the cheap 
butchers' blocks or counters. These they cook in a tap-room; half 
a pound costing 2d. If time be an object, the coster buys a hot pie 
or two; preferring fruit-pies when in season, and next to them 
meat-pies. 'We never eat eel-pies,' said one man to me, 'because 
we know they're often made of large dead eels. We, of all people, 
are not to be had that way. But the haristocrats eats 'em and never 
knows the difference.' I did not hear that these men had any 
repugnance to meat-pies; but the use of the dead eel happens to 
come within the immediate knowledge of the costermongers, who 
are, indeed, its purveyors. Saveloys, with a pint of beer, or a glass 
of 'short' (neat gin) is with them another common week-day 
dinner. The costers make all possible purchases of street-dealers, 
and pride themselves in thus 'sticking to their own.' On Sunday, 
the costermonger, when not 'cracked up,' enjoys a good dinner 
at his own abode. This is always a joint — most frequently a shoulder 
or half-shoulder of mutton — and invariably with 'lots of good 
taturs baked along with it.' In the quality of their potatoes these 
people are generally particular. 

The costermonger's usual beverage is beer, and many of them 
drink hard, having no other way of spending their leisure but in 
drinking and gambling. It is not unusual in 'a good time,' for a 
costermonger to spend 12s. out of every 20s. in beer and pleasure. 

I ought to add, that the 'single fellows,' instead of living on 
'block ornaments' and the like, live, when doing well, on the best 
fare, at the 'spiciest' cook-shops on their rounds, or in the neigh- 
bourhood of their residence. 

There are some families of costermongers who have persevered 
in carrying out the principles of teetotalism. One man thought 
there might be 200 individuals, including men, women, and 
children, who practised total abstinence from intoxicating drinks. 
These parties are nearly all somewhat better off than their drinking 

Mayheiv^s London 9 9 

companions. The number of teetotalers amongst the costers, 
however, was more numerous three or four years back. 


1 shall now proceed to treat of the London costermongers' mode 
of doing business. 

In the first place all the goods they sell are cried or 'hawked,' 
and the cries of the costermongers in the present day are as varied 
as the articles they sell. The principal ones, uttered in a sort of 
cadence, are now, 'Ni-ew mackerel, 6 a shilling.' ('I've got a 
good jacketing many a Sunday morning,' said one dealer, 'for 
waking people up with crying mackerel, but I've said, "I must live 
while you sleep." ') 'Buy a pair of live soles, 3 pair for 6d.' — or, 
with a barrow, 'Soles, Id. a pair, Id. a pair;' 'Plaice alive, alive, 
cheap;' 'Buy a pound crab, cheap;' 'Pine-apples, \d. a slice;' 
'Mussels a penny a quart;' 'Oysters, a penny a lot;' 'Salmon 
alive, Qd. a pound;' 'Cod alive, 2d. a pound;' 'Real Yarmouth 
bloaters, 2 a penny;' 'New herrings alive, 16 a groat' (this is the 
loudest cry of any); 'Penny a bunch turnips' (the same with 
greens, cabbages, &c); 'All new nuts, Id. half-pint;' 'Oranges, 

2 a penny;' 'All large and alive-O, new sprats, 0, Id. a plate;' 
'Wi-ild Hampshire rabbits, 2 a shilling;' 'Cherry ripe, 2d. a 
pound;' 'Fine ripe plums, Id. a pint;' Tng-uns, a penny a quart;' 
'Eels, 3lbs. a shilling — large live eels 31bs. a shilling.' 

The continual calling in the streets is very distressing to the 
voice. One man told me that it had broken his, and that very often 
while out he had lost his voice altogether. 'They seem to have no 
breath,' the men say, 'after calling for a little while.' The repeated 
shouting brings on a hoarseness, which is one of the peculiar char- 
acteristics of hawkers in general. The costers mostly go out with 
a boy to cry their goods for them. If they have two or three halloo- 
ing together, it makes more noise than one, and the boys can 
shout better and louder than the men. The more noise they can 
make in a place the better they find their trade. Street-selling has 
been so bad lately that many have been obliged to have a drum 
for their bloaters, 'to drum the fish off,' as they call it. 

In the second place, the costermongers, as I said before, have 

10 Mayhew's London 

mostly their little bit of a 'round;' that is, they go only to certain 
places; and if they don't sell their goods they 'work back' the same 
way again. If they visit a respectable quarter, they confine them- 
selves to the mews near the gentlemen's houses. They generally 
prefer the poorer neighbourhoods. They go down or through almost 
all the courts and alleys — and avoid the better kind of streets, un- 
less with lobsters, rabbits, or onions. If they have anything inferior, 
they visit the low Irish districts — for the Irish people, they say, 
want only quantity, and care nothing about quality — that they 
don't study. But if they have anything they wish to make a price of, 
they seek out the mews, and try to get it off among the gentlemen's 
coachmen, for they will have what is good; or else they go among 
the residences of mechanics, — for their wives, they say, like good- 
living as well as the coachmen. Some costers, on the other hand, go 
chance rounds. 


Some costers, I am told, make upwards of 30s. a week all the year 
round; but allowing for cessations in the street trade, through bad 
weather, neglect, ill-health, or casualty of any kind, and taking 
the more prosperous costers with the less successful — the English 
with the Irish — the men with the women — perhaps 10s. a week 
may be a fair average of the earnings of the entire body the year 

These earnings, I am assured, were five years ago at least 25 per 
cent, higher; some said they made half as much again: 'I can't 
make it out how it is,' said one man, 'but I remember that I could 
go out and sell twelve bushel of fruit in a day, when sugar was 
dear, and now, when sugar's cheap, I can't sell three bushel on the 
same round. Perhaps we want thinning.' 

Such is the state of the working-classes, say all the costers, they 
have little or no money to spend. 'Why, I can assure you,' declared 
one of the parties from whom I obtained much important informa- 
tion, 'there's my missus — she sits at the corner of the street with 
fruit. Eight years ago she would have taken 8s. out of that street 
on a Saturday, and last Saturday week she had one bushel of apples, 
which cost Is. <i<7. She was out from ten in the morning till ten at 
night, and all she took that day was Is. l\d. Go to whoever you 

Mayhew's London 101 

will you will hear much upon the same thing.' Another told me, 
'The costers are often obliged to sell the things for what they gave 
for them. The people haven't got money to lay out with them — 
they tell us so; and if they are poor we must be poor too. If we can't 
get a profit upon what goods we buy with our stock-money, let it 
be our own or anybody's else, we are compelled to live upon it, 
and, when that's broken into, we must either go to the workhouse 
or starve. If we go to the workhouse, they'll give us a piece 
of dry bread, and abuse us worse than dogs.' Indeed, the whole 
course of my narratives shows how the costers generally — though 
far from universally — complain of the depressed state of their 


I shall now treat of the tricks of trade practised by the London 
costermongers. Of these the costers speak with as little reserve and 
as little shame as a fine gentleman of his peccadilloes. 'I've boiled 
lots of oranges,' chuckled one man, 'and sold them to Irish hawkers, 
as wasn't wide awake, for stunning big uns. The boiling swells the 
oranges and so makes 'em look finer ones, but it spoils them, 
for it takes out the juice. People can't find that out though until 
it's too late. I boiled the oranges only a few minutes, and three or 
four dozen at a time.' Oranges thus prepared will not keep, and 
any unfortunate Irishwoman, tricked as were my informant's 
customers, is astonished to find her stock of oranges turn dark- 
coloured and worthless in forty-eight hours. The fruit is 'cooked' 
in this way for Saturday night and Sunday sale — times at which 
the demand is the briskest. Some prick the oranges and express 
the juice, which they sell to the British wine-makers. 

Apples cannot be den It with like oranges, but they arc mixed. 
A cheap red-skinned fruit, known to costers as 'gawfs,' is rubbed 
hard, to look bright and feel soft, and is mixed with apples of a 
superior description. 'Gawfs are sweet and sour at once,' I was 
told, 'and fit for nothing but mixing.' Some foreign apples, from 
Holland and Belgium, were bought very chenp last March, at no 
more thnn ]fid. a bushel, and on a fine morning as many as fifty 
boys might be seen rubbing those apples, in Hooper-street, Lam- 
beth. 'I've made a crown out of a bushel of 'em on a fine day,' said 

1 2 Mayhew^s London 

one sharp youth. The larger apples are rubbed sometimes with 
a piece of woollen cloth, or on the coat skirt, if that appendage forms 
part of the dress of the person applying the friction, but most 
frequently they are rolled in the palms of the hand. The smaller 
apples are thrown to and fro in a sack, a lad holding each end. 'I wish 
I knew how the shopkeepers manages their fruit,' said one youth to 
me; 'I should like to be up to some of their moves; they do manage 
their things so plummy.' 

Cherries are capital for mixing, I was assured by practical men. 
They purchase three sieves of indifferent Dutch, and one sieve of 
good English cherries, spread the English fruit over the inferior 
and sell them as the best. Strawberry pottles are often half cabbage 
leaves, a few tempting strawberries being displayed on the top of 
the pottle. 'Topping up,' said a fruit dealer to me, 'is the principal 
thing, and we are perfectly justified in it. You ask any coster that 
knows the world, and he'll tell you that all the salesmen in the 
markets tops up. It's only making the best of it.' Filberts they bake 
to make them look brown and ripe. Prunes they boil to give them 
a plumper and finer appearance. The latter trick, however, is not 
unusual in the shops. 

The more honest costermongers will throw away fish when it is 
unfit for consumption; less scrupulous dealers, however, only throw 
away what is utterly unsaleable; but none of them fling away the 
dead eels, though their prejudice against such dead fish prevents 
their indulging in eel-pies. The dead eels are mixed with the living 
often in the proportion of 20 lb. dead to 5 lb. alive, equal quantities 
of each being accounted very fair dealing. 'And after all,' said a 
street fish dealer to me, 'I don't know why dead eels should be 
objected to; the aristocrats don't object to them. Nearly all fish is 
dead before it's cooked, and why not eels? Why not eat them when 
they're sweet, if they're ever so dead, just as you eat fresh herrings? 
I believe it's only among the poor and among our chaps, that 
there's this prejudice. Eels die quickly if they're exposed to 
the sun.' 

Herrings are made to look fresh and bright by candle-light, 
by the lights being so disposed 'as to give them,' I was told, 
'a good reflection. Why, I can make them look splendid; quite 
a pictur. I can do the same with mackerel, but not so prime 
as herrings.' 

Mayhew^s London 103 



To see this market in its busiest costermonger time, the visitor 
should be there about seven o'clock on a Friday morning. The 
market opens at four, but for the first two or three hours, it is 
attended solely by the regular fishmongers and 'bummarees' who 
have the pick of the best there. As soon as these are gone, the 
costers' sale begins. 

Many of the costers that usually deal in vegetables, buy a little 
fish on the Friday. It is the fast day of the Irish, and the mechanics' 
wives run short of money at the end of the week, and so make up 
their dinners with fish; for this reason the attendance of costers' 
barrows at Billingsgate on a Friday morning is always very great. 
As soon as you reach the Monument you see a line of them, with 
one or two tall fishmonger's carts breaking the uniformity, and the 
din of the cries and commotion of the distant market, begins to 
break on the ear like the buzzing of a hornet's nest. The whole 
neighbourhood is covered with the hand-barrows, some laden with 
baskets, others with sacks. Yet as you walk along, a fresh line of 
costers' barrows are creeping in or being backed into almost im- 
possible openings; until at every turning nothing but donkeys and 
rails are to be seen. The morning air is filled with a kind of scawecdy 
odour, reminding one of the sea-shore; and on entering the market, 
the smell of fish, of whelks, red herrings, sprats, and a hundred 
others, is almost overpowering. 

The woorlen barn-looking square where the fish is sold, is soon 
after six o'clock crowded with shiny cord jackets and greasy caps. 
Everybody comes to Billingsgate in his worst clothes, and no one 
knows the length of time a coat can be worn until they have been 
to a fish sale. Through the bright opening at the end are seen the 
tangled rigging of the oyster-boats and the red worsted caps of the 
sailors. Over the hum of voices is heard the shouts of the salesmen, 
who, with their white aprons, peering above the heads of the mob, 
stand on their tables, roaring out their prices. 

All are bawling together — salesmen and hucksters of provisions, 
capes, hardware, and newspapers — till the place is a perfect Babel 
of competition. 'Ha-a-ansome cod! best in the market! All alive! 

104 M ay hew' s London 

alive! alive 0!' 'Ye-o-o! Ye-o-o! here's your fine Yarmouth bloaters! 
Who's the buyer?' 'Here you are, governor, splendid whiting! some 
of the right sort!' 'Turbot! turbot! all alive! turbot!' 'Glass of nice 
peppermint! this cold morning a ha'penny a glass!' 'Here you are 
at your own price! Fine soles, O!' 'Oy, oy! oy! Now's your time! 
fine grizzling sprats! all large and no small!' 'Hullo! hullo here! 
beautiful lobsters! good and cheap! fine cock crabs all alive 0!' 
'Five brill and one turbot — have that lot for a pound! Come and 
look at 'em, governor; you won't see a better sample in the market.' 
'Here, this way! this way for splendid skate! skate 0! skate O!' 
'Had-had-had-had-haddick! all fresh and good!' 'Currant and 
meat puddings! a ha'penny each!' 'Now, you mussel-buyers, come 
along! come along! come along! now's your time for fine fat 
mussels!' 'Here's food for the belly, and clothes for the back, 
but I sell food for the mind' (shouts the newsvendor). 'Here's 
smelt 0!' 'Here ye are, fine Finney haddick!' 'Hot soup! nice 
peas-soup! nice peas-soup! a-all hot! hot!' 'Ahoy! ahoy here! live 
plaice! all alive 0!' 'Now or never! whelk! whelk! whelk!' 'Who'll 
buy brill 0! brill 0!' 'Capes! water-proof capes! sure to keep the 
wet out! a shilling a piece!' 'Eels 0! eels 0! Alive! alive 0!' 'Fine 
flounders, a shilling a lot! Who'll have this prime lot of flounders?' 
'Shrimps! shrimps! fine shrimps!' 'Wink! wink! wink!' 'Hi! hi-i! 
here you are, just eight eels left, only eight!' '0 ho! ho! this 
way — this way — this way! Fish alive! alive! alive 0!' 

In ^the darkne ss o f the shed, the white bellies_ of_the turbots, 
strung up ho jy-fasj iioj^shine like mother^oLpea^L while the 
lobsters, tyingupon them, look rhtehsely^carlet, from the contrast. 
Brown baskets piled up on one another, and with the herring-scales 
glittering like spangles all over them, block up the narrow paths. 
Men in coarse canvas jackets, and bending under huge hampers, 
push past, shouting 'Move on! move on, there!' and women, with 
the_l ong limp tails of cod-fis h jangling from their aprons, elbow 
their way through the crowd. Round the auction-tables stand 
groups of men turning over the piles of soles, and throwing tbem 
down till they slide about in their slime; some are smelling them, 
wliilo othors are counting the lots. 'There, that lot of soles are 
worth your money,' cries the salesman to one of the crowd as he 
moves on leisurely; 'none better in the market. You shall have 
'cm for a pound and hnlf-a-crown.' 'Oh!' shouts another salesman, 

Mayhew^s London 105 

'it's no use to bother him — he's no go.' Presently a tall porter, 
with a black oyster-bag, staggers past, trembling under the weight 
of his load, his back and shoulders wet with the drippings from 
the sack. 'Shove on one side!' he mutters from between his clenched 
teeth, as he forces his way through the mob. Here is a tray of 
reddish-brown shrimps piled up high, and the owner busy sifting 
his little fish into another stand, while a doubtful customer stands 
in front, tasting the flavour of the stock and consulting with his 
companion in speculation. Little girls carrying matting-bags, 
that they have brought from Spitalfields, come up, and ask you 
in a begging voice to buy their baskets; and women with bundles 
of twigs for stringing herrings, cry out. 'Half-penny a bunch!' 
from all sides. ThemthejiLareblue- black piles j^srnnljjiyejrthj^rs 
moving about their bound-up claws and long feelers', oneot' them 
occasionally being taken up by a looker-on, and dashed down 
again, like a stone. Everywhere every one is asking, 'What's the 
price, master?' while shouts of laughter from round the stalls of 
the salesmen, bantering each other, burst out, occasionally, over 
the murmuring noise of the crowd. The transparent smelts on the 
marble-slabs, and the bright herrings, with the lump of transparent 
ice magnifying their eyes like a lens, are seldom looked at until 
the market is over, though the hampers and piles of huge maids, 
dropping slime from the counter, are eagerly examined and 
bartered for. 

One side of the market is set aside for whelks. There they stand 
in sackfuls, with the yellow shells piled up at the mouth, and 
one or two of the fish, curling out lik e corkscrews, placed as a 
sample. The <^steTT?rrpirone oi these from its shell, examines it, 
pushes it back again, and then passes away, to look well round the 
market. In one part the stones are covered with herring-barrels, 
packed closely with dried fish, and yellow heap_s_of stiff haddock 
rise up on all sides. Here a man walks up withhls knot on his 
shoulder, waitm"g~fbr a job to carry fish to the trucks. Boys in rag- 
ged clothes, who have slept during the night under a railway-arch, 
clamour for employment; while the heads of those returning from 
the oyster-boats, rise slowly up the stone sides of the wharf. 

The eostennonpvrs have nicknamed the long row of oyster-boats 
moored close alongside the wharf 'Oyster-street.' On looking down 
the line of tangled ropes and masts, it seems as though the little 

106 Mayhem* s London 

boats would sink with the crowds of men and women thronged 
together on their decks. It is as busy a scene as one can well 
behold. Each boat has its black sign-board, and salesman in his 
white apron walking up and down 'his shop,' and on each deck 
is a bright pewter pot and tin-covered plate, the remains of the 
salesman's breakfast. 'Who's for Baker's?' 'Who's for Archer's?' 
'Who'll have Alston's?' shout the oyster-merchants, and the red 
cap of the man in the hold bobs up and down as he rattles the 
shells about with his spade. These holds are filled with oysters — a 
gray mass of sand and shell — on which is a bushel measure well 
piled up in the centre, while some of them have a blue muddy heap 
of mussels divided off from the 'natives.' The sailors in their striped 
guernseys sit on the boat sides smoking their morning's pipe, 
allowing themselves to be tempted by the Jew boys with cloth 
caps, old shoes, and silk handkerchiefs. Lads with bundles of whips 
skip from one boat to another, and seedy-looking mechanics, with 
handfuls of tin fancy goods, hover about the salesmen, who are the 
principal supporters of this trade. The place has somewhat the 
appearance of a little Holywell-street; for the old clothes' trade is 
entirely in the hands of the Jew boys, and coats, caps, hats, um- 
brellas, and old shoes, are shouted out in a rich nasal twang on all 

At length nearly all the busy marketing has finished, and the 
costers hurry to breakfast. At one house, known as 'Rodway's 
Coffee-house,' a man can have a meal for Id. — a mug of hot coffee 
and two slices of bread and butter, while for two-pence what 
is elegantly termed 'a tightener,' that is to say, a most plentiful 
repast, may be obtained. Here was a large room, with tables all 
round, and so extremely silent, that the smacking of lips and 
sipping of coffee were alone heard. Upwards of 1,500 men breakfast 
here in the course of the morning, many of them taking as many as 
three such meals. On the counter was a pile of white mugs, and the 
bright tin cans stood beside the blazing fire, whilst Rodway him- 
self sat at a kind of dresser, cutting up and buttering the bread, 
with marvellous rapidity. It was a clean, orderly, and excellent 
establishment, kept by a man, I was told, who had risen from 
a saloop stall. 

Everybody was soon busy laying out their stock. The wrinkled 
dull-eyed cod_was freshened up, the red-headed gurnet^ placed in 

Mayhew's London 107 

_row8, the eels prevented from writ hing over the basket s ides by 
cabbage-leaves, and the soles paired off like gloves. Then the little 
trucks began to leave, crawling, as it were, between the legs of the 
horses in the vans crowding Thames-street, and plunging in be- 
tween huge waggons, but still appearing safely on the other side; 
and the 4,000 costers who visit Billingsgate on the Friday morning 
were shortly scattered throughout the metropolis. 


Ox a Saturday — the coster's business day — it is computed that 
as many as 2,000 donkey-barrows, and upwards of 3,000 women 
with shallows and head-baskets visit this market during the fore- 
noon. About six o'clock in the morning is the best time for viewing 
the wonderful restlessness of the place, for then not only is the 
'Garden' itself all bustle and activity, but the buyers and sellers 
stream to and from it in all directions, filling every street in the 
vicinity. From Long Acre to the Strand on the one side, and from 
Bow-street to Bedford-street on the other, the ground has been 
seized upon by the market-goers. As you glance down any one of 
the neighbouring streets, the long rows of carts and donkey- 
barrows seem interminable in the distance. They are of all kinds, 
from the greengrocer's taxed cart to the coster's barrow — from the 
showy excursion-van to the rude square donkey-cart and brick- 
la\-er's trusk. In every street they are ranged down the middle and 
by the kerb-stones. Along each approach to the market, too, 
nothing is to be seen, on all sides, but vegetables; the pavement is 
covered with heaps of them waiting to be carted; the flag-stones 
are stained green with the leaves trodden under foot; sieves and 
sacks full of apples and potatoes, and bundles of broccoli and 
rhubarb, are left unwatched upon almost every door-step; the 
steps of Covent Garden Theatre are covered with fruit and vege- 
tables; the road is blocked up with mountains of cabbages and 
turnips; and men and women push past with their arms bowed out 
by the cauliflowers under them, or the red tips of carrots pointing 
from their crammed aprons, or else their faces are red with the 
weight of the loaded head-basket. 

The donkey-harrows, from their number and singularity, force 
you to stop and notice them. Every kind of ingenuity has been 

108 Mayhevfs London 

exercised to construct harness for the costers' steeds; where a 
buckle is wanting, tape or string make the fastening secure; traces 
are made of rope and old chain, and an old sack or cotton handker- 
chief is folded up as a saddle-pad. Some few of the barrows make 
a magnificent exception, and are gay with bright brass; while one 
of the donkeys may be seen dressed in a suit of old plated carriage- 
harness, decorated with coronets in all directions. At some of the 
coster convej^ances stands the proprietor, arranging his goods, the 
dozing animal starting up from its sleep each time a heavy basket 
is hoisted on the tray. Others, with their green and white and red 
load neatly arranged, are ready for starting, but the coster is 
finishing his breakfast at the coffee-stall. On one barrow there may 
occasionally be seen a solitary sieve of apples, with the horse of 
some neighbouring cart helping himself to the pippins while the 
owner is away. The men that take charge of the trucks, whilst the 
costers visit the market, walk about, with their arms full of whips 
and sticks. At one corner a donkey has slipped down, and lies on 
the stones covered with the cabbages and apples that have fallen 
from the cart. 

The market itself presents a beautiful scene. In the clear morning 
air of an autumn day the whole of the vast square is distinctly seen 
from one end to the other. The sky is red and golden with the 
newly-risen sun, and the rays falling on the fresh and vivid colours 
of the fruit and vegetables, brighten up the picture as with a 
coat of varnish. There is no shouting, as at other markets, but a 
low murmuring hum is heard, like the sound of the sea at a distance, 
and through each entrance to the market the crowd sweeps by. 
Under the dark Piazza little bright dots of gas-lights are seen 
burning in the shops; and in the paved square the people pass and 
cross each other in all directions, hampers clash together, and 
excepting the carters from the country, every one is on the move. 
Sometimes a huge column of baskets is seen in the air, and walks 
away in a marvellously steady manner, or a monster railway van, 
laden with sieves of fruit, and with the driver perched up on his 
high seat, jolts heavily over the stones. Cabbages are piled up into 
stacks as it wore. Carts are heaped high with turnips, and bunches 
of carrots like huge red fingers, are seen in all directions. Flower- 
girls, with large bundles of violets under their arms, run past, 
leaving a trail of perfume behind them. Waggons, with their shafts 

Mayliew^s London 109 

sticking up in the air, are ranged before the salesmen's shops, the 
high green load railed in with hurdles, and every here and there 
bunches of turnips are seen flying in the air over the heads of the 
people. Groups of apple- women, with straw pads on their crushed 
bonnets, and coarse shawls crossing their bosoms, sit on their 
porter's knots, chatting in Irish, and smoking short pipes; every 
passer-by is hailed with the cry of, 'Want a baskit, yer honor?' The 
porter, trembling under the piled-up hamper, trots along the street, 
with his teeth clenched and shirt wet with the weight, and stagger- 
ing at every step he takes. 

Inside the market all is bustle and confusion. The people walk 
along with their eyes fixed on the goods, and frowning with thought. 
Men in all costumes, from the coster in his corduroy suit to the 
greengrocer in his blue apron, sweep past. A countryman, in an 
old straw hat and dusty boots, occasionally draws down the anger 
of a woman for walking about with his hands in the pockets of his 
smock-frock, and is asked, 'if that is the way to behave on a market- 
day?' Even the granite pillars cannot stop the crowd, for it sepa- 
rates and rushes past them, like the tide by a bridge pier. At every 
turn there is a fresh odour to sniff at; either the bitter aromatic 
perfume of the herbalists' shops breaks upon you, or the scent of 
oranges, then of apples, and then of onions is caught for an instant 
as you move along. The broccoli tied up in square packets, the white 
heads tinged slightly red, as it were, with the sunshine — the sieves 
of crimson love-apples, polished like china, — the bundles of white 
glossy leeks, their roots dangling like fringe, — the celery, with its 
pinky stalks and bright green tops, — the dark purple pickling- 
cabbages, the scarlet carrots, — the white knobs of turnips, — the 
bright yellow balls of oranges, and the rich brown coats of the 
chestnuts — attract the eye on every side. Then there arc the apple- 
merchants, with their fruit of all colours, from the pale yellow 
green to the bright crimson, and the baskets ranged in rows on the 
pavement before the little shops. Round these the customers stand 
examining the stock, then whispering together over their bargain, 
and counting their money. 'Give you four shillings for this here lot, 
master,' says a coster, speaking for his three companions. 'Four 
and six is my price,' answers the .salesman. 'Say four, and it's a 
bargain,' continues the man. 'I said my price,' returns the dealer; 
'go and look round, and see if you can get 'em cheaper; if not, 

110 Mayhew^s London 

come back. I only wants what's fair.' The man, taking the sales- 
man's advice, moves on. The wahiut merchant, with the group of 
women before his shop, peeling the fruit, their fingers stained deep 
brown, is busy with the Irish purchasers. The onion stores, too, 
are surrounded by Hibernians, feeling and pressing the gold- 
coloured roots, whose dry skins crackle as they are handled. Cases 
of lemons in their white paper jackets, and blue grapes, just seen 
above the sawdust are ranged about, and in some places the 
ground is slippery as ice from the refuse leaves and walnut husks 
scattered over the pavement. 

Against the railings of St. Paul's Church are hung baskets and 
slippers for sale, and near the public-house is a party of countrymen 
preparing their bunches of pretty coloured grass — brown and 
glittering, as if it had been bronzed. Between the spikes of the 
railing are piled up square cakes of green turf for larks; and at the 
pump, boys, who probably have passed the previous night in the 
baskets about the market, are washing, and the water dripping 
from their hair that hangs in points over the face. The kerb-stone 
is blocked up by a crowd of admiring lads, gathered round the bird- 
catcher's green stand, and gazing at the larks beating their breasts 
against their cages. The owner, whose boots are red with the soil 
of the brick-field, shouts, as he looks carelessly around, 'A cock 
linnet for tuppence,' and then hits at the youths who are poking 
through the bars at the fluttering birds. 

Under the Piazza the costers purchase their flowers (in pots) 
which they exchange in the streets for old clothes. Here is ranged 
a small garden of flower-pots, the musk and mignonette smelling 
sweetly, and the scarlet geraniums, with a perfect glow of coloured 
air about the flowers, standing out in rich contrast with the dark 
green leaves of the evergreens behind them. 'There's myrtles, and 
larels, and boxes,' says one of the men selling them, 'and there's a 
harbora witus, and lauristiners, and that bushy shrub with pink 
spots is heath.' Men and women, selling different articles, walk 
about under the cover of the colonnade. One has seed-cake, another 
small-tooth and other combs, others old caps, or pig's feet, and one 
hawker of knives, razors, and short hatchets, may occasionally be 
seen driving a bargain with a countryman, who stands passing his 
thumb over the blade to test its keenness. Between the pillars are 
the coffee-stalls, with their large tin cans and piles of bread and 

Mayhew 's London 111 

butter, and protected from the wind by paper screens and sheets 
thrown over clothes-horses; inside these httle parlours, as it were, 
sit the coffee-drinkers on chairs and benches, some with a bunch of 
cabbages on their laps, blowing the steam from their saucers, 
others, with their mouths full, munching away at their slices, as if 
not a moment could be lost. One or two porters are there besides, 
seated on their baskets, breakfasting with their knots on their heads. 
As you walk away from this busy scene, you meet in every street 
barrows and costers hurrying home. The pump in the market is 
now surrounded by a cluster of clattering wenches quarrelling over 
whose turn it is to water their drooping violets, and on the steps of 
Covent Garden Theatre are seated the shoeless girls, tying up the 
halfpenny and penny bundles. 


In Houndsditch there is a market supported principally by coster- 
mongers, who there purchase their oranges, lemons, and nuts. This 
market is entirely in the hands of the Jews; and although a few 
tradesmen may attend it to buy grapes, still it derives its chief 
custom from the street-dealers who say they can make far better 
bargains with the Israelites, (as they never refuse an offer), than 
they can with the Covent-garden salesmen, who generally cling to 
their prices. This market is known by the name of 'Duke's-place,' 
although its proper title is St. James's-place. The nearest road to it 
is through Duke's-street, and the two titles have been so confound- 
ed that at length the mistake has grown into a custom. 

Duke's-place — as the costers call it — is a large square yard, 
with the iron gates of a synagogue in one corner, a dead wall form- 
ing one entire side of the court, and a gas-lamp on a circular pave- 
ment in the centre. The place looks as if it were devoted to money- 
making — for it is quiet and dirty. Not a gilt letter is to be seen over 
a doorway; there is no display of gaudy colour, or sheets of plate- 
glass, such as we see in a crowded thoroughfare when a customer 
is to be caught by show. As if the merchants knew their trade was 
certain, they are content to let the London smoke do their painter's 
work. On looking at the shops in this quarter, the idea forces itself 
upon one that they are in the last stage of dilapidation. Never did 
property in Chancery look more ruinous. Each dwelling seems as 

112 Mayhew^s London 

though a fire had raged in it, for not a shop in the market has a 
window to it; and, beyond the few sacks of nuts exposed for sale, 
they are empty, the walls within being blackened with dirt, and 
paint without blistered in the sun, while the door-posts are worn 
round with the shoulders of the customers, and black as if charred. 
A few sickly hens wander about, turning over the heaps of dried 
leaves that the oranges have been sent over in, or roost the time 
away on the shafts and wheels of the nearest truck. Excepting on 
certain days, there is little or no business stirring, so that many of 
the shops have one or two shutters up, as if a death had taken 
place, and the yard is quiet as an inn of court. At a little distance 
the warehouses, with their low ceilings, open fronts, and black 
sides, seem like dark holes or coal-stores; and, but for the mahogany 
backs of chairs showing at the first floors, you would scarcely 
believe the houses to be inhabited, much more to be elegantly 
furnished as they are. One of the drawing-rooms that I entered here 
was warm and red with morocco leather, Spanish mahogany, and 
curtains and Turkey carpets; while the ormolu chandelier and the 
gilt frames of the looking-glass and pictures twinkled at every 
point in the fire-light. 

The householders in Duke's-place are all of the Jewish persuasion, 
and among the costers a saying has sprung up about it. When a 
man has been out of work some time, he is said to be 'Cursed, 
like a pig in Duke's-place.' 


Of foreign fruits, the oranges and nuts supply by far the greater 
staple for the street trade, and, therefore, demand a brief, but still 
a fuller, notice than other articles. 



The first coster-cry heard of a morning in the London streets is 
that of 'Fresh wo-orter-crcases.' Those that sell them have to be 
on their rounds in time for the mechanics' breakfast, or the day's 

Mayhem's London 113 

gains are lost. As the stock-money for this calling need only consist 
of a few halfpence, it is followed by the very poorest of the poor; 
such as young children, who have been deserted by their parents, 
and whose strength is not equal to any great labour, or by old 
men and women, crippled by disease or accident, who in their 
dread of a workhouse life, linger on with the few pence they earn 
by street-selling. 

As winter draws near, the Farringdon cress-market begins long 
before daylight. On your way to the City to see this strange sight, 
the streets are deserted; in the squares the blinds are drawn down 
before the windows, and the shutters closed, so that the very houses 
seem asleep. All is so silent that you can hear the rattle of the milk- 
maids' cans in the neighbouring streets, or the noisy song of three 
or four drunken voices breaks suddenly upon you, as if the singers 
had turned a corner, and then dies away in the distance. On the 
cab-stands, but one or two crazy cabs are left, the horses dozing 
with their heads down to their knees, and the drawn-up windows 
covered with the breath of the driver sleeping inside. At the corners 
of the streets, the bright fires of the coffee-stalls sparkle in the 
darkness, and as you walk along, thu policeman, leaning against 
some gas-lamp, turns his lantern full upon you, as if in suspicion 
that one who walks abroad so early could mean no good to house- 
holders. At one house there stands a man, with dirt}' boots and 
loose hair, as if he had just left some saloon, giving sharp single 
knocks, and then going into the road and looking up at the bed- 
rooms, to see if a light appeared in them. As you near the City, you 
meet, if it be a Monday or Friday morning, droves of sheep and 
bullocks, tramping quietly along to Smithfield, and carrying a fog 
of steam with them, while behind, with his hands in his pockets, 
and his dog panting at his heels, walks the sheep-drover. 

At the principal entrance to Farringdon-market there is an open 
space, running the entire length of the railings in front, and extend- 
ing from the iron gates at the entrance to the sheds down the 
centre of the large paved court before the shops. In this open 
space the cresses are sold, by the salesmen or saleswomen to 
whom they are consigned, in the hampers they are brought in from 
the country. 

The shops in the market are shut, the gas-lights over the iron 
gates burn brightly, and every now and then you hear the half- 

114 Maykew^s London 

smothered crowing of a cock, shut up in some shed or bird-fancier's 
shop. Presently a man comes hurrying along, with a can of hot 
coffee in each hand, and his stall on his head, and when he has 
arranged his stand by the gates, and placed his white mugs between 
the railings on the stone wall, he blows at his charcoal fire, making 
the bright sparks fly about at every puff he gives. By degrees the 
customers are creeping up, dressed in every style of rags; they 
shuffle up and down before the gates, stamping to warm their feet, 
and rubbing their hands together till they grate like sandpaper. 
Some of the boys have brought large hand-baskets, and carry them 
with the handles round their necks, covering the head entirely 
with the wicker-work as with a hood; others have their shallows 
fastened to their backs with a strap, and one little girl, with the 
bottom of her gown tattered into a fringe like a blacksmith's apron, 
stands shivering in a large pair of worn-out Vestris boots, holding 
in her blue hands a bent and rusty tea-tray. A few poor creatures 
have made friends with the coffee-man, and are allowed to warm 
their fingers at the fire under the cans, and as the heat strikes into 
them, they grow sleepy and yawn. 

The market — by the time we reach it — has just begun; one 
dealer has taken his seat, and sits motionless with cold — for it wants 
but a month to Christmas — with his hands thrust deep into the 
pockets of his gray driving coat. Before him is an opened hamper, 
with a candle fixed in the centre of the bright green cresses, and as 
it shines through the wicker sides of the basket, it casts curious 
patterns on the ground — as a night shade does. Two or three 
customers, with their 'shallows' slung over their backs, and 
their hands poked into the bosoms of their gowns, are bending 
over the hamper, the light from which tinges their swarthy features, 
and they rattle their half- pence and speak coaxingly to the dealer, 
to hurry him in their bargains. 

Just as the clocks are striking five, a stout saleswoman enters the 
gates, and instantly a country-looking fellow, in a waggoner's cap 
and smock-frock, arranges the baskets he has brought up to 
London. The other ladies are soon at their posts, well wrapped up in 
warm cloaks, over their thick shawls, and sit with their hands under 
their aprons, talking to the loungers, whom they call by their 
names. Now the business commences; the customers come in by 
twos and threes, and walk about, looking at the cresses, and listen- 

Mayhew^s London 115 

ing to the prices asked. Every hamper is surrounded by a black 
crowd, bending over till their heads nearly meet, their foreheads 
and cheeks lighted up by the candle in the centre. The saleswomen's 
voices are heard above the noise of the mob, sharply answering all 
objections that may be made to the quality of their goods. 'They're 
rather spotty, mum,' says an Irishman, as he examines one of the 
leaves. 'No more spots than a new-born babe, Dennis,' answers the 
lady tartly, and then turns to a new comer. At one basket, a street- 
seller in an old green cloak, has spread out a rusty shawl to receive 
her bunches, and by her stands her daughter, in a thin cotton 
dress, patched like a quilt. 'Ah! Mrs. Dolland,' cried the sales- 
woman in a gracious tone, 'can you keep yourself warm? it bites 
the fingers like biling water, it do.' At another basket, an old man, 
with long gray hair streaming over a kind of policeman's cape, 
is bitterly complaining of the way he has been treated by another 
saleswoman. 'He bought a lot of her, the other morning, and by 
daylight they were quite white; for he only made threepence on 
his best day.' 'Well, Joe,' returns the lady, 'you should come to 
them as knows you, and allers treats you well.' 

As the morning twilight came on, the paved court was crowded 
with purchasers. The sheds and shops at the end of the market 
grew every moment more distinct, and a railway-van, laden with 
carrots, came rumbling into the yard. The pigeons, too, began to 
fly on to the sheds, or walk about the paving-stones, and the gas- 
man came round with his ladder to turn out the lamps. Then every 
one was pushing about; the children crying, as their naked feet 
were trodden upon, and the women hurrying off, with their baskets 
or shawls filled with cresses, and the bunch of rushes in their hands. 
In one corner of the market, busily tying up their bunches, were 
three or four girls seated on the stones, with their legs curled up 
under them, and the ground near them was green with the leaves 
they had thrown away .A saleswoman, seeing me looking at the group, 
said to me, 'Ah! you should come here of a summer's morning, 
and then you'd see 'em, sitting tying up, young and old, upwards 
of a hundred poor things as thick as crows in a ploughed field.' 

As it grew late, and the crowd had thinned, none but the very 
poorest of the cress-sellers were left. Man}' of these had come with- 
out money, others had their halfpence tied up carefully in their 
shawl-ends, as though they dreaded the loss. A sickly-looking boy, 

116 Mayhew's London 

of about five, whose head just reached above the hampers, now 
crept forward, treading with his blue naked feet over the cold stones 
as a cat does over wet ground. At his elbows and knees, his skin 
showed in gashes through the rents in his clothes, and he looked so 
frozen, that the buxom saleswoman called to him, asking if his 
mother had gone home. The boy knew her well, for without answer- 
ing her question, he went up to her, and, as he stood shivering 
on one foot, said, 'Give us a few old cresses, Jinney,' and in a 
few minutes was running off with a green bundle under his arm. 
As you walk home — although the apprentice is knocking at the 
master's door — the little water- cress girls are crying their goods in 
every street. Some of them are gathered round the pumps, washing 
the leaves and piling up the bunches in their baskets, that are 
tattered and worn as their own clothing; in some of the shallows 
the holes at the bottom have been laced up or darned together with 
rope and string, or twigs and split laths have been fastened across; 
whilst others are lined with oilcloth, or old pieces of sheet-tin. Even 
by the time the cress-market is over, it is yet so early that the maids 
are beating the mats in the road, and mechanics, with their tool- 
baskets slung over their shoulders, are still hurrying to their work. 


These dealers were more numerous, even when the metropolitan 
population was but half its present extent. I heard several causes 
assigned for this, — such as the higher rate of earnings of the labour- 
ing people at that time, as well as the smaller number of shop- 
keepers who deal in such cheap luxuries as penny pies, and the 
fewer places of cheap amusement, such as the 'penny gaffs.' These 
places, I was told, 'run away with the young people's pennies,' 
which were, at one period, expended in the streets. 

Men and women, and most especially boys, purchase their meals 
day after day in the streets. The coffee-stall supplies a warm break- 
fast; shell-fish of many kinds tempt to a luncheon; hot-eels or pea- 
soup, flanked by a potato 'all hot,' servo for a dinner; and cakes 
and tarts, or nuts or oranges, with many varieties of pastry, con- 
fectionary, and fruit, woo to indulgence in a dessert; while for 
supper thero is a sandwich, a meat pudding, or a 'trotter.' 

Mayhew^s London 117 

The street provisions consist of cooked or prepared victuals, which 
may be divided into solids, pastry, confectionary, and drinkables. 

The solids, according to street estimation, consist of hot-eels, 
pickled whelks, oysters, sheep's-trotters, pea-soup, fried fish, ham- 
sandwiches, hot green peas, kidney puddings, boiled meat puddings, 
beef, mutton, kidney, and eel pies, and baked potatoes. In each of 
these provisions the street poor find a mid-day or midnight meal. 

The pastry and confectionary which tempt the street eaters are 
tarts of rhubarb, currant, gooseberry, cherry, apple, damson, 
cranberry, and (so called) mince pies; plum dough and plum- 
cake; lard, currant, almond and many other varieties of cakes, as 
well as of tarts; gingerbread-nuts and heart-cakes; Chelsea buns; 
muffins and crumpets; 'sweet stuff' includes the several kinds of 
rocks, sticks, lozenges, candies, and hard-bakes; the medicinal 
confectionary of cough-drops and horehound; and, lastly, the more 
novel and aristocratic luxury of street-ices; and strawberry cream, 
at Id. a glass (in Greenwich Park). 

The drinkables are tea, coffee, and cocoa; ginger-beer, lemonade, 
Persian sherbet, and some highly-coloured beverages which have 
no specific name, but are introduced to the public as 'cooling' 
drinks; hot elder cordial or wine; peppermint water; curds and 
whey; water (as at Hampstead); rice milk; and milk in the parks. 

A gentleman, who has taken an artist's interest in all connected 
with the streets, and has been familiar with their daily and nightly 
aspect from the commencement of the present century, considers 
that the great change is not so much in what has ceased to be sold, 
but in the introduction of fresh articles into street-traffic — such as 
pine-apples and Brazil-nuts, rhubarb and cucumbers, ham-sand- 
wiches, ginger-beer, &c. The coffee-stall, he represents, has but 
superseded the saloop-stall (of which I have previously spoken); 
while the class of street customers who supported the saloop-dealer 
now support the purveyor of coffee. 

Concerning the bygone street-cries, I had also the following 
account from the personal observation of an able correspondent: — 

'First among the old "musical cries," may be cited the "Tiddy 
Doll!" — immortalised by Hogarth — then comes the last person, 
who, with a fine bass voice, coaxed his customers to buy sweets 
with, "Quack, quack, quack, quack! Browns, browns, browns! 
have you got any mouldy browns ?" There was a man, too, who 

118 Mayhew^s London 

sold tripe, &c, in this way, and to some purpose; he was as fine a 
man as ever stepped, and his deep rich voice would ring through 
a whole street, "Dog's-meat! cat's-meat! nice tripe! neat's feet! 
Come buy my trotters!" The last part would not have disgraced 
Lablache. He discovered a new way of pickling tripe — got on — 
made contracts for supplying the Navy during the war, and 
acquired a large property. One of our most successful artists is his 
grandson. Then there was that delight of our childhood — the eight 
o'clock "Hot spiced gingerbread! hot spiced gingerbread! buy my 
spiced gingerbread! smo-o-o-king hot!" ' Another informant 
remembered a very popular character (among the boys), whose 
daily cry was: 'Hot spiced gingerbread nuts, nuts, nuts! If one'll 
warm you, wha-aVW a pound do — ? Wha-a-a-aVM a pound do?' 
Gingerbread was formerly in much greater demand than it is now. 


Two of the condiments greatly relished by the chilled labourers 
and others who regale themselves on street luxuries, are 'pea- 
soup' and 'hot eels.' Of these tradesmen there may be 500 now 
in the streets on a Saturday. As the two trades are frequently 
carried on by the same party, I shall treat of them together. The 
greatest number of these stands is in Old-street, St. Luke's, about 
twenty. In warm weather these street-cooks deal only in 'hot eels' 
and whelks; as the whelk trade is sometimes an accompaniment of 
the others, for then the soup will not sell. These dealers are station- 
ary, having stalls or stands in the street, and the savoury odour 
from them attracts more hungry-looking gazers and longers than 
does a cook-shop window. They seldom move about, but generally 
frequent the same place. 

Near the Bricklayers' Arms, at the junction of the Old and 
New Kent-roads, a hot-eel man dispenses what a juvenile customer 
assured me was 'as spicy as any in London, as if there was gin in 
it.' But the dealer in Clare-market does the largest trade of all in 
the hot-eel line. He is 'the head man.' On one Saturday he was 
known to sell 100 lbs. of eels, and on most Saturdays he will get rid 
of his four 'draughts' of eels (a draught being 20 lbs.). He and his 
son are dressed in Jenny Lind hats, bound with blue velvet, and 

Mayhew's London 119 

both dispense the provisions, while the daughter attends to wash 
the cups. 'On a Sunday, anybody,' said my informant, 'would 
think him the first nobleman or squire in the land, to see him 
dressed in his white hat, with black crape round it, and his drab 
paletot and mother-o' -pearl buttons, and black kid gloves, with 
the fingers too long for him.' 

I may add, that even the very poorest, who have only a half- 
penny to spend, as well as those with better means, resort to the 
stylish stalls in preference to the others. The eels are all purchased 
at Billingsgate early in the morning. The parties themselves, or 
their sons or daughters, go to Billingsgate, and the watermen row 
them to the Dutch eel vessels moored off the market. 

The price of the hot eels is a halfpenny for five or seven pieces 
of fish, and three-parts of a cupful of liquor. The charge for a 
half-pint of pea-soup is a halfpenny, and the whelks are sold, 
according to the size, from a halfpenny each to three or four for 
the same sum. These are put out in saucers. 

There are now in the trade almost more than can get a living at 
it, and their earnings are less than they were formerly. One party 
attributed this to the opening of a couple of penny-pie shops in his 
neighbourhood. Before then he could get 2s. Q>d. a day clear, take 
one day with another; but since the establishment of the business 
in the penny-pie line he cannot take above Is. 6d. a day clear. On 
the day the first of these pie-shops opened, it made as much as 
10 lbs., or half a draught of eels, difference to him. There was 
a band of music and an illumination at the pie-shop, and it was 
impossible to stand against that. The fashionable dress of the trade 
is the 'Jenny Lind' or 'wide-awake' hat, with a broad black ribbon 
tied round it, and a white apron and sleeves. The dealers usually go 
to Hampton-court or Greenwich on a fine Sunday. They are partial 
to the pit of Astley's. One of them told his waterman at Billingsgate 
the other morning that 'he and his good lady had been werry 
amused with the osses at Hashley's last night.' 


The trade in whelks is one of which the costermongers have the 
undisputed monopoly. The wholesale business is all transacted in 

120 Mayhew's London 

Billingsgate, where this shell-fish is bought by the measure (a 
double peck or gallon), half- measure, or wash. 

About one-half of the whelks are sold alive (wholesale) and the 
other half 'cooked' (boiled), some of the salesmen having 'conven- 
ience for cooking' near the market; but they are all brought to 
London alive, 'or what should be alive.' When bought alive, which 
ensures a better quality, I was told — for' 'whelks'll boil after they're 
dead and gone, you see, sir, as if they was alive and hungry' — 
the costermonger boils them in the largest saucepan at his com- 
mand for about ten minutes, and then leaves them until they cool. 
'They never kicks as they boils, like lobsters or crabs,' said one 
whelk dealer, 'they takes it quiet. A missionary cove said to me, 
"Why don't you kill them first? it's murder." They doesn't suffer; 
I've suffered more with a toothache than the whole of a measure of 
whelks has in a boiling, that I'm clear upon.' The boiling is generally 
the work of the women. The next process is to place them in a tub, 
throw boiling water over them, and stir them up for ten or fifteen 
minutes with a broom-handle. If the quantity be a wash, two 
broom-handles, usually wielded by the man and his wife, °re 
employed. This is both to clean them and 'to make them come out 
easier to be wormed.' The 'worming' is equivalent to the removing 
of the beard of an oyster or mussel. The whelks are wormed one by 
one. The operator cuts into the fish, rapidly draws out the 'worm,' 
and pushes the severed parts together, which closes. 

The whelks are sold at the stalls at two, three, four, six, and 
eight a penny, according to size. Four is an average pennyworth 
for good whelks; the six a penny are small, and the eight a penny 
very small. The principal place for their sale is in Old-street, City- 
road. The other principal places are the street-markets, which I 
have before particularised. The whelks are sold in saucers, generally 
small and white, and of common ware, and are contained in jars, 
ready to be 'shelled' into any saucer that may have been emptied. 
Sometimes a small pyramid of shells, surmounted by a candle 
protected by a shade, attracts the regard of the passer-by. 

For sale in the public-houses, the whelks are most frequently 
carried in jars, and transferred in a saucer to the consumer. 'There's 
often a good sale,' said a man familiar with the business, 'when a 
public room's filled. People drinking there always want to eat. 
They buy whelks, not to fill themselves, but for a relish. A man 

Mayhem's London 121 

that's used to the trade will often get off inferior sorts to the lushing- 
tons; he'll have them to rights. Whelks is all the same, good, bad, 
or middling, when a man's drinking, if they're well seasoned with 
pepper and vinegar.' 


Amoxg the cooked food which has for many years formed a portion 
of the street trade is fried fish. 

In the public-houses, a slice of bread, 16 or 32 being cut from a 
quartern loaf — as they are whole or half slices — is sold or offered 
with the fish for a penny. The cry of the seller is, 'fish and bread, 
a penny.' Sometimes for an extra-sized piece, with bread, 2d. is 
obtained, but very seldom, and sometimes two pieces are given for 
\\d. At the stalls bread is rarely sold with the edible in question. 

For the itinerant trade, a neatly painted wooden tray, slung by 
a leathern strap from the neck, is used: the tray is papered over 
generally with clean newspapers, and on the paper is spread the 
shapeless brown lumps of fish. Parsley is often strewn over them, 
and a salt-box is placed at the discretion of the customer. The 
trays contain from two to five dozen pieces. 

The itinerant fried fish-sellers, when pursuing their avocation, 
wear generally a jacket of cloth or fustian buttoned round them, 
but the rest of their attire is hidden by the white sleeves and apron 
some wear, or by the black calico sleeves and dark woollen aprons 
worn by others. 

The capital required to start properly in the business is: — frying- 
pan 2s. (second-hand 9d.); tray 2s. Qd. (second-hand Sd); salt-box 
6d. (second-hand Id.); and stock-money 5s. — in all 10s. A man has 
gone into the trade, however, with Is., which he expended in fish 
and oil, borrowed a frying-pan, borrowed an old tea-board, and so 
started on his venture. 


The man who gave me the following information was well-looking, 
and might be about 45 or 50. He was poorly dressed, but his old 

122 Mayhew's London 

brown surtout fitted him close and well, was jauntily buttoned up 
to his black satin stock, worn, but of good quality; and, altogether, 
he had what is understood among a class as 'a betterly appearance 
about him.' 

'I've been in the trade,' he said, 'seventeen years. Before that, 
I was a gentleman's servant, and I married a servant-maid, and 
we had a family, and, on that account, couldn't, either of us, get 
a situation, though we'd good characters. 

'I've lived in good families, where there was first-rate men-cooks, 
and I know what good cooking means. I bought a dozen plaice; 
I forgot what I gave for them, but they were dearer then than now. 
For all that, I took between lis. and 12s. the first night — it was 
Saturday — that I started; and I stuck to it, and took from 7s. to 
10s. every night, with more, of course, on Saturday, and it was half 
of it profit then. I cleared a good mechanic's earnings at that time 
— 306". a week and more. Soon after, I was told, if agreeable, my 
wife could have a stall with fried fish opposite a wine-vaults just 
opened, and she made nearly half as much as I did on my rounds. 
I served the public-houses, and soon got known. With some land- 
lords I had the privilege of the parlour, and tap-room, and bar, 
when other tradesmen have been kept out. The landlords will say 
to me still: "You can go in, Fishy." Somehow, I got the name of 
"Fishy" then, and I've kept it ever since. There was hospitality in 
those days. I've gone into a room in a public-house, used by 
mechanics, and one of them has said: "I'll stand fish round, gentle- 
men"; and I've supplied fifteen penn'orths. Perhaps he was a stran- 
ger, such a sort of customer, that wanted to be agreeable. Now, it's 
more likely I hear: "Jack, lend us a penny to buy a bit of fried"; 
and then Jack says: "You be d — d! here, lass, let's have another 
pint." The insults and difficulties I've had in the public-house 
trade is dreadful. 

'I've had my tray kicked over for a lark in a public-house, and 
a scramble for my fish, and all gone, and no help and no money for 
me. The landlords always prevent such things, when they can, 
and interfere for a poor man; but then it's done sudden, and over 
in an instant. That sort of thing wasn't the worst. I once had some 
powdery stuff flung over me at a parlour door. My fish fell off, for 
I jumped, because I felt blinded, and what became of them I don't 
know; but I aimed at once for home — it was very late — and had 

Mayhew's London 123 

to feel my way almost like a blind man. I can't tell what I suffered. 
I found it was something black, for I kept rubbing my face with 
my apron, and could just tell it came away black. I let myself in 
with my latch, and my wife was in bed, and I told her to get up 
and look at my face and get some water, and she thought I was 
joking, as she was half asleep; but when she got up and got a light, 
and a glass, she screamed, and said I looked such a shiny image; 
and so I did, as well as I could see, for it was blacklead — such as 
they use for grates — that was flung on me. I washed it off, but it 
wasn't easy, and my face was sore days after.' 


The sale of sheep's trotters, as a regular street-trade, is confined to 
London, Liverpool, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and a few more of our 
greater towns. The 'trotter,' as it is commonly called, is the boiled 
foot of the sheep. 

From fifteen to twenty years ago glue and size, owing principally 
to improved modes of manufacture, became cheaper, so that it 
paid the fellmonger better to dispose of the trotters as an article 
'cooked' for the poor, than to the glue-boiler. 

The process of cookery is carried on rapidly at the fellmonger's 
in question. The feet are first scalded for about half an hour. After 
that from ten to fifteen boys are employed in scooping out the 
hoofs, which are sold for manure or to manufacturers of Prussian 
blue, which is extensively used by painters. Women are then 
employed, forty being an average number, 'to scrape the hair off,' — 
for hair it is called — quickly, but softly, so that the skin should not 
be injured, and after that the trotters are boiled for about four 
hours, and they are then ready for market. 


The baked potato trade, in the way it is at present carried on, has 
not been known more than fifteen years in the streets. Before that, 
potatoes were sometimes roasted as chestnuts are now, but only on 
a small scale. The trade is more profitable than that in fruit, but 
continues for but six months of the year. 

12 4 Mayhew^s London 

There are usually from 280 to 300 potatoes in the cwt.; these 
are cleaned by the huckster, and, when dried, taken in baskets, 
about a quarter cwt. at a time, to the baker's, to be cooked. They 
are baked in large tins, and require an hour and a half to do them 
well. The charge for baking is dd. the cwt., the baker usually finding 
the tins. They are taken home from the bakehouse in a basket, 
with a yard and a half of green baize in which they are covered 
up, and so protected from the cold. The huckster then places them 
in his can, which consists of a tin with a half-lid; it stands on four 
legs, and has a large handle to it, while an iron fire-pot is suspended 
immediately beneath the vessel which is used for holding the 
potatoes. Directly over the fire-pot is a boiler for hot water. This is 
concealed within the vessel, and serves to keep the potatoes always 
hot. Outside the vessel where the potatoes are kept is, at one end, 
a small compartment for butter and salt, and at the other end 
another compartment for fresh charcoal. Above the boiler, and 
beside the lid, is a small pipe for carrying off the steam. These 
potato-cans are sometimes brightly polished, sometimes painted 
red, and occasionally brass-mounted. Some of the handsomest are 
all brass, and some are highly ornamented with brass-mountings. 
Great pride is taken in the cans. The baked-potato man usually 
devotes half an hour to polishing them up, and they are mostly 
kept as bright as silver. The handsomest potato- can is now in Shore- 
ditch. It cost ten guineas, and is of brass mounted with German 
silver. There are three lamps attached to it, with coloured glass, 
and of a style to accord with that of the machine; each lamp cost 5s. 


These two appellations are, or have been, used somewhat con- 
fusedly in the meat trade. Thirty, or forty, or fifty years ago — for 
each term was mentioned to me — the butcher in question was a 
man who went 'trotting' on his small horse to the more distant 
suburbs to sell meat. This was when the suburbs, in any direction, 
were 'not built up to' as they are now, and the appearance of the 
trotting butcher might be hailed as saving a walk of a mile, or a 
mile and a half, to a butcher's shop, for only tradesmen of a smaller 
capital then opened butcher's shops in the remoter suburbs. 
Of 'trotting' butchers, keeping their own horses, there are now 

Mayhew^s London 125 

none, but there are still, I am told, about six of the class who 
contrive, by hiring, or more frequently borrowing, horses of some 
friendly butcher, to live by trotting. These men are all known, 
and all call upon known customers — often those whom they have 
served in their prosperity, for the trotting butcher is a 'reduced' 
man — and are not likely to be succeeded by any in the same line, 
or — as I heard is called — 'ride' of business. 

The present class of street -traders in raw meat are known to the 
trade as 'hawking' butchers, and they are as thoroughly street- 
sellers as are the game and poultry 'hawkers.' Their number, I am 
assured, is never less than 150, and sometimes 200 or even 250. 
They have all been butchers, or journeymen butchers, and are 
broken down in the one case, or unable to obtain work in the other. 
They then 'watch the turn of the markets,' as small meat 'jobbers,' 
and — as on the Stock Exchange — 'invest,' when they account the 
market at the lowest. The meat so purchased is hawked in a large 
basket carried on the shoulders, if of a weight too great to be sus- 
tained in a basket on the arm. The sale is confined almost entirely 
to public-houses, and those at no great distance from the great 
meat marts of Newgate, Leadenhall, and Whitechapel. The hawkers 
do not go to the suburbs. Their principal trade is in pork and veal, 
— for those joints weigh lighter, and present a larger surface in com- 
parison with the weight, than do beef or mutton. The same may be 
said of lamb; but of that they do not buy one quarter so much as of 
pork or veal. 


The ham-sandwich-seller carries his sandwiches on a tray or flat 
basket, covered with a clean white cloth; he also wears a white 
apron, and white sleeves. His usual stand is at the doors of the 

The trade was unknown until eleven years ago, when a man 
who had been unsuccessful in keeping a coffee-shop in Westminster, 
found it necessary to look out for some mode of living, and he hit 
upon the plan of vending sandwiches, precisely in the present style, 
at the theatre doors. The attempt was successful; the man soon 
took 10s. a night, half of which was profit. He 'attended' both the 

126 Mayhew's London 

great theatres, and was 'doing well'; but at five or six weeks' end, 
competitors appeared in the field, and increased rapidly, and so his 
sale was affected, people being regardless of his urging that he 'was 
the original ham-sandwich.' The capital required to start in the trade 
was small; a few pounds of ham, a proportion of loaves, and a little 
mustard was all that was required, and for this 10s. was ample. 

The persons carrying on this trade have been, for the most part, 
in some kind of service — errand-boys, pot-boys, foot-boys (or 
pages), or lads engaged about inns. Some few have been mechanics. 
Their average weekly earnings hardly exceed 5s., but some 'get 
odd jobs' at other things. 

'There are now, sir, at the theatres this (the Strand) side the 
water, and at Ashley's, the Surrey, and the Vic, two dozen and 
nine sandwiches.' So said one of the trade, who counted up his 
brethren for me. This man calculated also that at the Standard, 
the saloons, the concert-rooms, and at Limehouse, Mile-end, Beth- 
nal-green-road, and elsewhere, there might be more than as many 
again as those 'working' the theatres — or 70 in all. They are nearly 
all men, and no boys or girls are now in the trade. The number of 
these people, when the large theatres were open with the others, 
was about double what it is now. 

The information collected shows that the expenditure in ham- 
sandwiches, supplied by street-sellers, is 1,820J. yearly, and a 
consumption of 436,800 sandwiches. 

To start in the ham-sandwich street-trade requires 2s. for a 
basket, 2s. for kettle to boil ham in, 6d. for knife and fork, 2d. for 
mustard-pot and spoon, Id. for \ cwt. of coals, 5.9. for ham, Is. 3d. 
for bread, 4d. for mustard, 9d. for basket, cloth, and apron, 4d. for 
over-sleeves — or a capital of 12s. lid. 


The street-trade in bread is not so extensive as might be expected, 
from the universality of the consumption. It is confined to Petti- 
coat-lane and the poorer districts in that neighbourhood. 

One of my elder informants remembered his father telling him 
that in 1800 and 1801, George III. had set the example of eating 
brown bread at his one o'clock dinner, but he was sometimes 
assailed as he passed in his carriage, with the reproachful epithet of 

Mayhem's London 127 

1 Brown George.' This feeling continues, for the poor people, and 
even the more intelligent working-men, if cockneys, have still a 
notion that only 'white' bread is fit for consumption. 

Some of these traders have baskets containing the bread offered 
for street-sale; others have barrows, and one has a barrow resemb- 
ling a costermonger's, with a long basket made to fit upon it. 
The dress of these vendors is a light coat of cloth or fustian; cordu- 
roy, fustian, or cloth trousers, and a cloth cap or a hat, the whole 
attire being, what is best understood as 'dusty,' ingrained as it is 
with flour. 


The sale of hot green peas in the streets is of great antiquity, that 
is to say, if the cry of 'hot peas-cod,' recorded by Lydgate (and 
formerly alluded to), may be taken as having intimated the sale of 
the same article. In many parts of the country it is, or was, cus- 
tomary to have 'scoldings of peas,' often held as a sort of rustic 
feast. The peas were not shelled, but boiled in the pod, and eaten 
by the pod being dipped in melted butter, with a little pepper, 
salt, and vinegar, and then drawn through the teeth to extract the 
peas, the pod being thrown away. 

The sellers of green peas have no stands, but carry a round or 
oval tin pot or pan, with a swing handle; the pan being wrapped 
round with a thick cloth, to retain the heat. The peas are served 
out with a ladle, and eaten by the customers, if eaten in the street, 
out of basins, provided with spoons, by the pea-man. Salt, vinegar, 
and pepper are applied from the vendor's store, at the customer's 

There are now four men carrying on this trade. They wear no 
particular dress, 'just what clothes we can get,' said one of them. 
One, who has been in the trade twenty-five years, was formerly an 
inn-porter; the other three are ladies' shoemakers in the day-time, 
and pea-sellers in the evening, or at early morning, in any market. 


Tue supply of food for cats and dogs is far greater than may be 
generally thought. 'Vy, sir,' said one of the dealers to me, 'can 

128 M ay hew' s London 

you tell me 'ow many people's in London?' On my replying, 
upwards of two millions; 'I don't know nothing vatever,' said my 
informant, 'about millions, but I think there's a cat to every ten 
people, aye, and more than that; and so, sir, you can reckon. 

'I must know, for they all knows me, and I sarves about 200 
cats and 70 dogs. Mine's a middling trade, but some does far 
better. Some cats has a hap'orth a day, some every other day; 
werry few can afford a penn'orth, but times is inferior. Dogs ia 
better pay when you've a connection among 'em.' 

The cat and dogs'-meat dealers, or 'carriers,' as they call them- 
selves, generally purchase the meat at the knackers' (horse- 
slaughterers') yards. 

The carriers then take the meat round town, wherever their 
'walk' may lie. They sell it to the public at the rate of 2\d. per lb., 
and in small pieces, on skewers, at a farthing, a halfpenny, and a 
penny each. Some carriers will sell as much as a hundred- weight 
in a day, and about half a hundred- weight is the average quantity 
disposed of by the carriers in London. Some sell much cheaper 
than others. 

But the trade is much worse now. There are so many at it, they 
say, that there is barely a living for any. A carrier assured me that 
he seldom went less than 30, and frequently 40 miles, through the 
streets every day. The best districts are among the houses of trades- 
men, mechanics, and labourers. The coachmen in the mews at the 
back of the squares are very good customers. 'The work lays 
thicker there,' said my informant. Old maids are bad, though very 
plentiful, customers. They cheapen the carriers down so, that they 
can scarcely live at the business. 'They will pay one halfpenny and 
owe another, and forget that after a day or two.' The cats' meat 
dealers generally complain of their losses from bad debts. 

One gentleman has as much as 4 lbs. of meat each morning for 
two Newfoundland dogs; and there was one woman — a black — 
who used to have as much as 16 pennyworth every day. This person 
used to get out on the roof of the house and throw it to the cats on 
the tiles. By this she brought so many stray cats round about the 
neighbourhood, that the parties in the vicinity complained; it was 
quite a nuisance. She would have the meat always brought to her 
before ten in the morning, or else she would send to a shop for it, 
and between ten and eleven in the morning the noise and cries of 

31 ay hew' s London 129 

the hundreds of stray cats attracted to the spot was 'terrible to 
hear.' When the meat was thrown to the cats on the roof, the 
riot, and confusion, and fighting, was beyond description. 'A beer- 
shop man,' I was told, 'was obliged to keep five or six dogs to drive 
the cats from his walls.' 

The generality of the dealers wear a shiny hat, black plush 
waistcoat and sleeves, a blue apron, corduroy trousers, and a blue 
and white spotted handkerchief round their necks. Some, indeed, 
will wear two and three handkerchiefs around their necks, this 
being fashionable among them. 


The street-sellers of the drinkables, who have now to be considered, 
belong to the same class as I have described in treating of the sale 
of street-provisions generally. The buyers are not precisely of the 
same class, for the street-eatables often supply a meal, but with the 
exception of the coffee-stalls, and occasionally of the rice-milk, 
the drinkables are more of a luxury than a meal. Thus the buyers 
are chiefly those who have 'a penny to spare,' rather than those 
who have 'a penny to dine upon.' 


The vending of tea and coffee, in the streets, was little if at all 
known twenty years ago, saloop being then the beverage supplied 
from stalls to the late and early wayfarers. Nor was it until after 
1842 that the stalls approached to anything like their present 
number, which is said to be upwards of 300 — the majority of the 
proprietors being women. 

The best 'pitch' in London is supposed to be at the corner of 
Duke-street, Oxford-street. The proprietor of that stall is said to 
take full 30.s\ of a morning, in halfpence. One stall-keeper, I was 
informed, when 'upon the drink' thinks nothing of spending his 
101. or 151. in a week. A party assured me that once, when the 
stall-keeper above mentioned was away 'on the spree,' he took 
up his stand there, and got from 4s. to 5s. in the course of ten 
minutes, at the busy time of the morning. 

Some of the stall-keepers make their appearance at twelve at 

130 M ay hew' $ London 

night, and some not till three or four in the morning. Those that 
come out at midnight, are for the accommodation of the 'night- 
walkers' — 'fast gentlemen' and loose girls; and those that come 
out in the morning, are for the accommodation of the working men. 
It is, I may add, piteous enough to see a few young and good- 
looking girls, some without the indelible mark of habitual depravity 
on their countenances, clustering together for warmth round a coffee- 
stall, to which a penny expenditure, or the charity of the proprietor, 
has admitted them. The thieves do not resort to the coffee-stalls, 
which are so immediately under the eye of the policeman. 


The street-trade in ginger-beer — now a very considerable traffic — 
was not known to any extent until about thirty years ago. 

About five years ago 'fountains' for the production of ginger- 
beer became common in the streets. The largest and handsomest 
ginger-beer fountain in London was — I speak of last summer — in 
use at the East-end, usually standing in Petticoat-lane, and is the 
property of a dancing-master. It is made of mahogany, and presents 
somewhat the form of an upright piano on wheels. It has two 
pumps, and the brass of the pump-handles and the glass receivers 
is always kept bright and clean, so that the whole glitters hand- 
somely to the light. Two persons 'serve' at this fountain; and on 
a fine Sunday morning, from six to one, that being the best trading 
time, they take 11. or SI. in halfpennies — for 'the beer' is \d. a 
glass — and 21. each other day of the week. This machine, as it may 
be called, is drawn by two ponies, said to be worth 101. a-piece; 
and the whole cost is pronounced — perhaps with a sufficient exag- 
geration — to have been 1501. There were, in the same neighbour- 
hood, two more fountains on a similar scale, but commoner, each 
drawn by only one pony instead of the aristocratic 'pair.' 


The sale of hot elder wine in the streets is one of the trades which 
have been long established, but it is only within these eight or ten 

Mayhew^s London 131 

years that it has been carried on in its present form. It continues 
for about four months in the winter. 

Elder wine is made from the berries of the elder-tree. Elder 
syrup — also made from the berries — was formerly famous in the 
north of England as a curative for colds, and was frequently taken, 
with a small admixture of rum, at bedtime. Some of the street- 
sellers make the wine themselves; the majority, however, buy it 
of the British wine makers. 

The apparatus in which the wine is now kept for sale in the 
streets is of copper or brass, and is sometimes 'handsome.' It is 
generalh 7 an urn of an oblong form, erected on a sort of pedestal, 
with the lid or top ornamented with brass mouldings, &c. The 
interior of these urns holds three or four quarts of elder wine, which 
is surrounded with boiling water, and the water and wine are kept up 
to boiling pitch by means of a charcoal fire at the foot of the vessel. 


The principal sale of milk from the cow is in St. James's Park. 
The once fashionable drink known as syllabubs — the milk being 
drawn warm from the cow's udder, upon a portion of wine, sugar, 
spice, &c. — is now unknown. As the sellers of milk in the park are 
merely the servants of cow-keepers, and attend to the sale as a part 
of their business, no lengthened notice is required. 

The milk-sellers obtain leave from the Home Secretary, to ply 
their trade in the park. There are eight stands in the summer, and 
as many cows, but in the winter there are only four cows. 

A somewhat sour-tempered old woman, speaking as if she had 
been crossed in love, but experienced in this trade, gave me the 
following acount: 

'It's not at all a lively sort of life, selling milk from the cows, 
though some thinks it's a gay time in the Park! I've often been dull 
enough, and could see nothing to interest one, sitting alongside a 
cow. People drink new milk for their health, and I've served a good 
many such. They're mostly young women, I think, that's delicate, 
and makes the most of it. There's twenty women, and more, to 
one man what drinks new milk. If they was set to some good hard 
work, it would do them more good than new milk, or ass's milk 
either, I think. Let them go on a milk- walk to cure them — that's 

132 Mayhevfs London 

what I say. Some children come pretty regularly with their nurses 
to drink new milk. Some bring their own china mugs to drink it 
out of; nothing less was good enough for them. I've seen the nurse- 
girls frightened to death about the mugs. I've heard one young 
child say to another: "I shall tell mama that Caroline spoke to a 
mechanic, who came and shook hands with her." The girl was as 
red as fire, and said it was her brother. Oh, yes, there's a deal of 
brothers comes to look for their sisters in the Park.' 


During the summer months milk is sold in Smithfield, Billingsgate, 
and other markets, and on Sundays in Battersea-fields, Clapham- 
common, Camberwell-green, Hampstead-heath, and similar places. 
About twenty men are engaged in this sale. They usually wear a 
smock frock, and have the cans and yoke used by the regular milk- 
sellers; they are not itinerant. The skim milk — for they sell none 
else — is purchased at the dairies at \\d. a quart, and even the 
skim milk is also further watered by the street-sellers. Their cry is 
'Half-penny half-pint! Milk'' The tin measure however in which 
the milk-and-water is served is generally a 'slang', and contains 
but half of the quantity proclaimed. The purchasers are chiefly 
boys and children; rarely men, and never costermongers, I was 
told, 'for they reckon milk sickly.' 


TnE preparations of milk which comprise the street-trade, are 
curds and whey and rice-milk, the oldest street-sellers stating that 
these were a portion of the trade in their childhood. The one is 
a summer, and the other a winter traffic, and both are exclusively 
in the hands of the same middle-aged and elderly women. 

The street-sale is confined to stalls; the stall, which is the ordinary 
stand, being covered with a white cloth, or in some cases an oil- 
cloth, and on this the curds, in a bright tin kettle or pan, are 
deposited. There are six mugs on the board, and a spoon in each, 
but those who affect a more modern style have glasses. One of the 
neatest stalls, as regards the display of glass, and the bright cleanli- 

m i 

The Coster Boy and Gihl Tossing the Pikm.w 

Lofg-song Seller 

Mayhew's London 135 

ness of the vessel containing the curds, is in Holborn; but the curd- 
seller there has only an average business. 


To make rice-milk, the street-seller usually boils four quarts, of the 
regular measure, of 'skim' with one pound of rice, which has been 
previously boiled in water. An hour suffices for the boiling of the 
milk; and the addition of the rice, swollen by the boiling water, 
increases the quantity to six quarts. No other process is observed, 
except that some sweeten their rice-milk before they offer it for 
sale; the majority, however, sweeten it to the customer's liking 
when he is 'served,' unless — to use the words of one informant — 
'he have a werry, werry sweet tooth indeed, sir; and that can't be 


It may surprise many to learn that there are still existing water- 
carriers in London, and some of them depending upon the trade 
for a livelihood; while others, the 'odd men' of the neighbourhood, 
carry pails of spring water to the publicans or eating-house keepers, 
who may not have serv ants to send to the nearest pump for it, and 
who require it fresh and cool for those who drink it at their meals. 
Of these men there are, as near as I can ascertain, from 100 to 150; 
their charge is Id. per pail. Their earnings per day 6d. to Is. 

An old man who sells water on the summer Sunday mornings, 
generally leaving off his sale at church-time, told me that his best 
customers were ladies and gentlemen who loved an early walk, 
and bought of him 'as it looked like a bit of country life,' he sup- 
posed, more than from being thirsty. When such customers were 
not inhabitants of the neighbourhood, they came to him to ask 
their way, or to make inquiries concerning the localities. Sometimes 
he dispensed water to men who 'looked as if they had been on the 
loose all night. One gentleman,' he said, 'looks sharp about him, 
and puts a dark-coloured stuff — very likely it's brandy — into the 
two or three glasses of water which he drinks every Sunday, or 
which he used to drink rather, for I missed him all last summer, 
I think. His hand trembled like an aspen; he mostly gave me Qd. f 
The water-seller spoke with some indignation of boys, and some- 

136 Mayhem' s London 

times men, going to the well on a Sunday morning and 'drinking 
out of their own tins that they'd taken with 'em.' 


The cooked provisions sold in the streets, it has been before stated, 
consist of three kinds — solids, liquids, and pastry and confection- 
ary. The two first have now been fully described, but the last still 
remains to be set forth. 

The street pastry may be best characterised as of a strong flavour. 
This, is for the most part, attributable to the use of old or rancid 
butter, — possessing the all-important recommendations of cheap- 
ness, — or to the substitution of lard, dripping, or some congenial 
substance. The 'strong' taste, however, appears to possess its value 
in the estimation of street pastry-buyers, especially among the 

The articles of pastry sold in the London streets are meat and 
fruit pies, boiled meat and kidney puddings, plum 'duff' or pudding, 
and an almost infinite variety of tarts, cakes, buns, and biscuits; 
while the confectionary consists of all the several preparations 
included under the wide denomination of 'sweet-stuff,' as well as 
the more 'medicinal' kind known as 'cough drops'; in addition 
to these there are the more 'aristocratic' delicacies recently intro- 
duced into street traffic, viz., penny raspberry creams and ices. 


The itinerant trade in pies is of the most ancient of the street 
callings of London. The meat pies are made of beef or mutton; the 
fish pies of eels; the fruit of apples, currants, gooseberries, plums, 
damsons, cherries, raspberries, or rhubarb, according to the season 
— and occasionally of mince-meat. A few years ago the street pie- 
trade was very profitable, but it has been almost destroyed by the 
'pie-shops,' and further, the few remaining street-dealers say 'the 
people now haven't the pennies to spare.' Summer fairs and races 
are the best places for the piemen. 

At the public-houses a few pies are sold, and the pieman makes 
a practice of 'looking in' at all the taverns on his way. Here his 
customers are found principally in the tap-room. 'Here's all 'ot!' 

Mayheufs London 137 

the pieman cries, as he walks in; 'toss or buy! up and win 'em!' 
This is the only way that the pies can be got rid of. 'If it wasn't for 
tossing we shouldn't sell one.' 

To 'toss the pieman' is a favourite pastime with costermongers' 
boys and all that class; some of whom aspire to the repute of being 
gourmands, and are critical of the quality of the comestible. If the 
pieman win the toss, he receives Id. without giving a pie; if he lose, 
he hands it over for nothing. The pieman himself never 'tosses,' 
but always calls head or tail to his customer. At the week's end it 
comes to the same thing, they say, whether they toss or not, or 
rather whether they win or lose the toss: 'I've taken as much as 
2s. 6d. at tossing, which I shouldn't have had if I hadn't done so. 
Very few people buy without tossing, and the boys in particular. 
Gentlemen "out on the spree" at the late public-houses will fre- 
quently toss when the}^ don't want the pies, and when they win they 
will amuse themselves by throwing the pies at one another, or at me.' 


The sale of boiled puddings, meat and currant — which might per- 
haps be with greater correctness called dumplings — has not been 
known in London, I was informed by one in the trade, more than 
twelve or fourteen years. The ingredients for the meat puddings are 
not dissimilar to those I have described as required for the meat 
pies, but the puddings are boiled, in cotton bags, in coppers or large 
pans, and present the form of a round ball. The charge is a half- 
penny each. 


Plum dough is one of the street-eatables — though perhaps it is 
rather a violence to class it with the street-pastry — which is usually 
made by the vendors. It is simply a boiled plum, or currant, pud- 
ding, of the plainest description. It is sometimes made in the round- 
ed form of the plum-pudding; but more frequently in the roly- 
poly' style. Hot pudding used to be of much more extensive sale 
in the streets. One informant told me that twenty or thirty years 
ago, batter, or Yorkshire, pudding, 'with plums in it,' was a popular 

138 M ay hew' s London 

street business. The 'plums,' as in the orthodox plum-puddings, are 
raisins. The street-vendors of plum 'duff' are now very few, only- 
six as an average, and generally women, or if a man be the salesman 
he is the woman's husband. 

TARTS, &c. 

These men and boys — for there are very few women or girls in the 
trade — constitute a somewhat numerous class. They are computed 
(including Jews) at 150 at the least, all regular hands, with an 
addition, perhaps, of 15 or 20, who seek to earn a few pence on a 
Sunday, but have some other, though poorly remunerative, employ- 
ment on the week-days. The cake and tart-sellers in the streets have 
been, for the most part, mechanics or servants; a fifth of the body, 
however, have been brought up to this or to some other street- 

The cake-men carry their goods on a tray slung round their 
shoulders when they are offering their delicacies for sale, and on 
their heads when not engaged in the effort to do business. They 
are to be found in the vicinity of all public places. Their goods are 
generally arranged in pairs on the trays; in bad weather they are 
covered with a green cloth. 

None of the street- vendors make the articles they sell; indeed, 
the diversity of those articles renders that impossible. Among the 
regular articles of this street-sale are 'Coventrys,' or three-cornered 
puffs with jam inside; raspberry biscuits; cinnamon biscuits; 
'chonkeys,' or a kind of mince-meat baked in crust; Dutch butter- 
cakes; Jews' butter-cakes; 'bowlas,' or round tarts made of sugar, 
apple, and bread; 'jumbles,' or thin crisp cakes made of treacle, 
butter, and flour; and jams, or open tarts with a little preserve in 
the centre. All these things are made for the street- sellers by about 
a dozen Jew pastry-cooks, the most of whom reside about White- 



The sale of gingerbread, as I have previously observed, was much 
more extensive in the streets than it is at present. Indeed, what was 

Mayhew^s London 139 

formerly known in the trade as 'toy' gingerbread is now unseen 
in the streets, except occasionally, and that only when the whole 
has not been sold at the neighbouring fairs, at which it is still 
offered. But, even at these fairs, the principal, and sometimes the 
only, toy gingerbread that is vended is the 'cock in breeches;' 
a formidable- looking bird, with his nether garments of gold. Twenty 
or thirty years ago, 'king George on horseback' was popular in 
gingerbread. His Majesty, wearing a gilt crown, gilt spurs, and a 
gilt sword, bestrode the gilt saddle of his steed, and was eaten with 
great relish by his juvenile subjects. There were also sheep, and 
dogs, and other animals, all adorned in a similar manner, and 
looking as if they had been formed in close and faithful imitation 
of children's first attempts at cattle drawing. These edible toys 
were then sold in 'white,' as well as in 'brown' gingerbread, 
the white being the same in all other respects as the brown, 
except that a portion of sugar was used in its composition instead 
of treacle. 

There are now only two men in London who make their own 
gingerbread-nuts for sale in the streets. 


Perhaps no cry — though it is only for one morning — is more 
familiar to the ears of a Londoner, than that of 'One-a-penny, 
two-a-penny, hot-cross buns,' on Good Friday. The sale is unknown 
in the Irish capital; for among Roman Catholics, Good Friday, 
I need hardly say, is a strict fast, and the eggs in the buns prevent 
their being used. One London gentleman, who spoke of fifty years 
ago, told me that the street-bun-sellers used to have a not unpleas- 
ing distich. On reflection, however, my informant could not be 
certain whether he had heard this distich cried, or had remembered 
hearing the elders of his family speak of it as having been cried, or 
how it was impressed upon his memory. It seems hardly in accord- 
ance with the usual style of street poetry: — 

'One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot-cross buns! 
If your daughters will not eat them, give them to your sons. 
But if you hav'n't any of thoso pretty little elves, 
You cannot then do bettor than oat them all yourselves,' 

140 Mayhem's London 

A tradesman who had resided more than fifty years in the 
Borough had, in his boyhood, heard, but not often, this ridiculous 

'One-a-penny, poker; two-a-penny tongs, 
One-a-penny; two-a-penny, hot-cross buns.' 


The street -sellers of muffins and crumpets rank among the old 
street-tradesmen. It is difficult to estimate their numbers, but they 
were computed for me at 500, during the winter months. They are 
for the most part boys, young men, or old men, and some of them 
infirm. There are a few girls in the trade, but very few women. 

The ringing of the muffin-man's bell — attached to which the 
pleasant associations are not a few — was prohibited by a recent 
Act of Parliament, but the prohibition has been as inoperative as 
that which forbade the use of a drum to the costermonger, for the 
muffin bell still tinkles along the streets, and is rung vigorously in 
the suburbs. 

I did not hear of any street-seller who made the muffins or 
crumpets he vended. Indeed, he could not make the small quantity 
required, so as to be remunerative. The muffins are bought of the 
bakers, and at prices to leave a profit of 4d. in Is. Some bakers give 
thirteen to the dozen to the street-sellers whom they know. The 
muffin-man carries his delicacies in a basket, wherein they are well 
swathed in flannel, to retain the heat: 'People likes them warm, 
sir,' an old man told me, 'to satisfy them they're fresh, and they 
almost always are fresh; but it can't matter so much about their 
being warm, as they have to be toasted again. I only wish good 
butter was a sight cheaper, and that would make the muffins go. 
Butter's half the battle.' 

A sharp London lad of fourteen, whose father had been a journey- 
man baker, and whose mother (a widow) kept a small chandler's 
shop, gave me the following account: — 

'I turns out with muffins and crumpets, sir, in October, and 
continues until it gets well into the spring, according to the weather. 
I carries a fust-rate article; werry much so. If you was to taste 'em, 
sir, you'd say the same. If I sells three dozen muffins at \d. each. 

Mayhew's London 141 

and twice that in crumpets, it's a werry fair day, werry fair; all 
beyond that is a good day. The profit on the three dozen and the 
others is Is., but that's a great help, really a wonderful help, to 
mother, for I should be only mindin' the shop at home. Perhaps 
I clears 4s. a week, perhaps more, perhaps less; but that's about it, 
sir. Some does far better than that, and some can't hold a candle 
to it. If I has a hextra day's sale, mother'll give me 3d. to go to the 
play, and that hencourages a young man, you know, sir. If there's 
any unsold, a coffee-shop gets them cheap, and puts 'em off cheap 
again next morning. My best customers is genteel houses, 'cause 
I sells a genteel thing. I likes wet days best, 'cause there's werry 
respectable ladies what don't keep a servant, and they buys to save 
themselves going out. We're a great conwenience to the ladies, sir 
— a great conwenience to them as likes a slap-up tea. I have made 
Is. 8d. in a day; that was my best. I once took only 2\d. — I don't 
know why — that was my worst. The shops don't love me — I puts 
their noses out. Sunday is no better day than others, or werry little. 
I can read, but wish I could read easier.' 


In this sale there are now engaged, as one of the most intelligent 
of the class calculated, 200 individuals, exclusive of twenty or 
thirty Jew boys. The majority of the sellers are also the manufac- 
turers of the articles they vend. 

Treacle and sugar are the ground-work of the manufacture of 
all kinds of sweet-stuff. 'Hard-bake,' 'almond toffy,' 'halfpenny 
lollipops,' 'black balls,' the cheaper 'bulls eyes,' and 'squibs' are 
all made of treacle. One informant sold more of treacle rock than 
of anything else, as it was dispensed in larger half-penny-worths, 
and no one else made it in the same way. Of peppermint rock and 
sticks he made a good quantity. 

Brandy balls are made of sugar, water, peppermint, and a little 
cinnamon. Rose acid, which is a 'transparent' sweet, is composed 
of loaf sugar at §\d. per lb., coloured with cochineal. The articles 
sold in 'sticks' are pulled into form along a hook until they present 
the whitish, or speckled colour desired. A quarter of a stone of 
materials will for instance, be boiled for forty minutes, and then 
pulled a quarter of an hour, until it is sufficiently crisp and will 

142 M ay hew' s London 

'set' without waste. The flavouring — or 'scent' as I heard it called 
in the trade — now most in demand is peppermint. Gibraltar rock 
and Wellington pillars used to be flavoured with ginger, but these 
'sweeties' are exploded. 


The street-traders in cough drops and their accompaniments, 
however, do not now exceed six, and of them only two — who are 
near relatives — manufacture their own stock-in-trade. I here treat 
of the street trade in 'cough drops,' as a branch of the itinerant 
sweet-stuff trade. 

The two principal vendors of cough drops wheel their stalls, 
which are fixed upon barrows, to different parts of town, but one 
principal stand is in Holbrrn. On their boards are displayed the 
cough cures, both in the form of 'sticks' and 'drops', and a model 
of a small distillery. The portion inclosing the still is painted to 
resemble brick- work, and a tin tube, or worm, appears to carry the 
distillation to a receiver. Horehound, colts-foot, and some other 
herbs he in a dried state on the stall, but principally horehound, 
to which popular (street) opinion seems to attach the most and 
the greatest virtues. There are also on the stalls a few bottles, tied 
up in the way they are dispensed from a regular practitioner, while 
the cough drops are in the form of sticks (\d. each), also neatly 
wrapped in paper. The cry is both expressive and simply descriptive 
— 'Long life candy! Candy from herbs!' 


I have already treated of the street luxury of pine-apples, and 
have now to deal with the greater street rarity of ice-creams. 

A quick-witted street-seller — but not in the 'provision' line — 
conversing with me upon this subject, said: 'Ices in the streets! 
Aye, and there'll be jellies next, and then mock turtle, and then 
the real ticket, sir. I don't know nothing of the difference between 
the real thing and the mock, but I once had some cheap mock in 
an eating-house, and it tasted like stewed tripe with a little glue. 

Mayhew^s London 143 

ifou'll keep your eyes open, sir, at the Great Exhibition; and you'll 
see a new move or two in the streets, take my word for it. Penny 
dasses of champagne, I shouldn't wonder.' 

Notwithstanding the sanguine anticipation of my street friend, 
;he sale of ices in the streets has not been such as to offer any great 
encouragement to a perseverance in the traffic. 


Che street- sellers of stationery, literature, and the fine arts differ 
rom all before treated of in the general, though far from universal, 
education of the sect. They constitute principally the class of 
itreet-orators, known in these days as 'patterers,' and formerly 
termed 'mountebanks,' — people who, in the words of Strutt, strive 
;o 'help off their wares by pompous speeches, in which little regard 
s paid either to truth or propriety.' To patter, is a slang term, 
neaning to speak. To indulge in this kind of oral puffery, of course, 
'equires a certain exercise of the intellect, and it is the conscious- 
less of their mental superiority which makes the patterers look 
lown upon the costermongers as an inferior body, with whom they 
jbject either to be classed or to associate. The scorn of some of the 
patterers' for the mere costers is as profound as the contempt of 
:he pickpocket for the pure beggar. 

For the present we have only to deal with that portion of the 
pattering' body who are engaged in the street sale of literature — 
jr the 'paper-workers' as they call themselves. The latter include 
the 'running patterers,' or 'death-hunters'; being men (no women) 
mgaged in vending last dying speeches and confessions — in hawk- 
ing 'se-cond edi-tions' of newspapers — or else in 'working,' that 
is to say, in getting rid of what are technically termed 'cocks'; 
which, in polite language, means accounts of fabulous duels be- 
tween ladies of fashion — of apocryphal elopements, or fictitious 
iove-letters of sporting noblemen and certain young milliners not 
i hundred miles from the spot — 'cooked' assassinations and sudden 
deaths of eminent individuals — pretended jealous affrays between 
Her Majesty and the Prince Consort (but these papers are now 
never worked) — or awful tragedies, including mendacious murders, 
impossible robberies, and delusive suicides. 

144 Mayhew's London 

Occasionally, however, the running patterer (who is especially 
literary) transmigrates into a standing one, betaking himself to 
'board work,' as it is termed in street technology, and stopping at 
the corners of thoroughfares with a large pictorial placard raised 
upon a pole, and glowing with a highly- coloured exaggeration of 
the interesting terrors of the pamphlet he has for sale. This is either 
'The Life of Calcraft, the Hangman,' 'The Diabolical Practices of 

Dr. on his Patients when in a state of Mesmerism,' or 'The 

Secret Doings at the White House, Soho,' and other similar attract- 
ively-repulsive details. Akin to this 'board work' is the practice 
of what is called 'strawing,' or selling straws in the street, and 
giving away with them something that is either really or fictionally 
forbidden to be sold, — as indecent papers, political songs, and the 
like. This practice, hoAvever, is now seldom resorted to, while the 
sale of 'secret papers' is rarely carried on in public. It is true, there 
are three or four patterers who live chiefly by professing to dispose 
of 'sealed packets' of obscene drawings and cards for gentlemen; 
but this is generally a trick adopted to extort money from old 
debauchees, young libertines, and people of degraded or diseased 
tastes; for the packets, on being opened, seldom contain anything, 
but an odd number of some defunct periodical. There is, however, 
a large traffic in such secret papers carried on in what is called 'the 
public-house trade,' that is to say, by itinerant 'paper-workers' 
(mostly women), who never make their appearance in the streets. 

There is another species of patterer, who, though usually included 
among the standing patterers, belongs rather to an intermediate 
class, viz., those who neither stand nor 'run,'' as they descant upon 
what they sell; but those walk at so slow a rate that, though never 
stationary, they can hardly be said to move. These are the reciters 
of dialogues, litanies, and the various street 'squibs' upon passing 
events; they also include the public propounders of conundrums, 
and the 'hundred and fifty popular song' enumerators — such as 
are represented in the engraving here given. Closely connected with 
them are the 'chaunters,' or those who do not cry, but (if one may 
so far stretch the English language) sing the contents of the 'papers' 
they vend. 

In addition to them there are many others vending 'papers' in 
the public thoroughfares, who are mere traders resorting to no 
other acts for the disposal of their goods than a simple cry or 

Mayhew^s London 145 

exposition of them; and many of these are but poor, humble, 
struggling, and inoffensive dealers. They do not puff or represent 
what they have to sell as what it is not — (allowing them a fair 
commercial latitude). They are not of the 'enterprising' class of 
street tradesmen. Among these are the street-sellers of stationery — 
such as note-paper, envelopes, pens, ink, pencils, sealing-wax, and 
wafers. Belonging to the same class, too, are the street- vendors of 
almanacs, pocket-books, memorandum and account-books. Then 
there are the sellers of odd numbers of periodicals and broadsheets, 
and those who vend either playing cards, conversation cards, 
stenographic cards, and (at Epsom, Ascot, &c.) racing cards. 
Besides these, again, there are the vendors of illustrated cards, 
such as those embellished with engravings of the Crystal Palace, 
Views of the Houses of Parliament, as well as the gelatine poetry 
cards — all of whom, with the exception of the racing- card sellers 
(who belong generally to the pattering tribe), partake of the usual 
characteristics of the street-selling class. 

After these may be enumerated the vendors of old engravings 
out of inverted umbrellas, and the hawkers of coloured pictures in 
frames. Then there are the old book-stalls and barrows, and 'the 
pinners-up,' as they are termed, or sellers of old songs pinned 
against the wall, as well as the vendors of manuscript music. More- 
over, appertaining to the same class, there are the vendors of play- 
bills and 'books of the performance' outside the theatre; and 
lastly, the pretended sellers of tracts — such as the Lascars and 
others, who use this kind of street traffic as a cloak for the more 
profitable trade of begging. 


Of the street-patterers the running (or flying) trader announces 
the contents of the paper he is offering for sale, as he proceeds on 
his mission. It is usually the detail of some 'barbarious and horrible 
murder,' or of some extraordinary occurrence — such as the attack 
on Marshal Haynau — which has roused public attention; or the 
paper announced as descriptive of a murder, or of some exciting 
event, may in reality be some odd number of a defunct periodical. 
'It's astonishing,' said one patterer to me, 'how few people ever 

146 M ay hew* s London 

complain of having been took in. It hurts their feelings to lose a 
halfpenny, but it hurts their pride too much, when they're had, to 
grumble in public about it.' 


In order that I might omit nothing which will give the student of 
that curious phase of London life in London streets — the condition 
of the patterers — a clear understanding of the subject, I procured 
the following account from an educated gentleman: 'I had lived,' 
he said, 'more than a year among the tradesmen and tramps, who 
herd promiscuously together in low lodging-houses. One afternoon 
I was taking tea at the same table with a brace of patterers. They 
eyed me with suspicion; but, determined to know their proceedings, 
I launched out the only cant word I had then learned. They spoke 
of going to Chatham. Of course, I knew the place, and asked them, 
"Where do you stall to in the huey?" which, fairly translated, 
means, "Where do you lodge in the town?" Convinced that I was 
"fly," one of them said, "We drop the main toper (go off the main 
road) and slink into the crib (house) in the back drum (street)." 
After some altercation with the "mot" of the "ken" (mistress of 
the lodging-house) about the cleanliness of a knife or fork, my new 
acquaintance began to arrange "ground", &c, for the night's work. 
I got into their confidence by degrees; and I give below a vocabu- 
lary of their talk to each other: 

Kite . 
Nests . 
Toff . 
Bluff . 
Mill Tag 


An excuse. 
A shirt. 
A shift. 

Mayhew's London 


Hay -bag 
Doxy . 
Flam . 
Bull . 
Flag . 

A woman. 
A wife. 
A lie. 
A shilling. 
A crown. 
An apron. 

'The cant or slang of the patterer is not the cant of the coster- 
monger, but a system of their own. As in the case of costers, it is so 
interlarded with their general remarks, while their ordinary- 
language is so smothered and subdued, that unless when they are 
professionally engaged and talking of their wares, they might 
almost pass for foreigners.' 

It would be a mistake to suppose that the patterers, although 
a vagrant, are a disorganized class. There is a telegraphic dispatch 
between them, through the length and breadth of the land. If two 
patterers (previously unacquainted) meet in the provinces, the 
following, or something like it, will be their conversation: — 'Can 
you "voker romeny" (can you speak cant)? What is your "mone- 
keer" (name)?' — Perhaps it turns out that one is 'White-headed 
Bob,' and the other 'Plymouth Ned.' They have a 'shant of gatter' 
(pot of beer) at the nearest 'boozing ken' (ale-house), and swear 
eternal friendship to each other. The old saying, that 'When the 
liquor is in, the wit is out,' is remarkably fulfilled on these occasions, 
for they betray to the 'flatties' (natives) all their profits and pro- 

If a patterer has been 'crabbed,' that is (offended) at any of the 
'cribbs' (houses), he mostly chalks a signal on or near the door. 
I give one or two instances: 

^ 'Bone,' meaning good. 

V 'Cooper'd,' spoiled by the imprudence of some other patterer. 

□ 'Gammy,' likely to have you taken up. 

O 'Plummut,' sure of a month in quod. 

In most lodging-houses there is an old man who is the guide to 
every 'walk' in the vicinity, and who can tell every house, on every 
round, that is 'good for a cold 'tater.' In many cases there is over 
the kitchen mantelpiece a map of the district, dotted here and 
there with memorandums of failure or success. 

148 Mayhew's London 

Patterers are fond of carving their names and avocations about 
the houses they visit. The old jail at Dartford has been some years 
a 'padding-ken.' In one of the rooms appears the following auto- 

'Jemmy, the Rake, bound to Bristol; bad beds, but no bugs. 
Thank God for all things.' 

'Razor George and his moll slept here the day afore Christmas; 
just out of "stir" (jail), for "muzzling a peeler." ' 

'Scotch Mary, with "driz" (lace), bound to Dover and back, 
please God.' 

Sometimes these inscriptions are coarse and obscene; sometimes 
very well written and orderly. Nor do they want illustrations. 

The patterer sometimes gets 'out of stock,' and is obliged, at 
no great sacrifice of conscience, to 'patter' in another strain. In 
every large town sham official documents, with crests, seals, and 
signatures, can be got for half-a-crown. Armed with these, the 
patterer becomes a 'lurker,' — that is, an impostor; his papers 
certify any and every 'ill that flesh is heir to.' Shipwreck is called 
a 'shake lurk;' loss by fire is a 'glim.' Sometimes the petitioner 
has had a horse, which has dropped dead with the mad staggers; 
or has a wife ill or dying, and six or seven children at once sickening 
of the small-pox. Children are borrowed to support the appearance; 
the case is certified by the minister and churchwardens of a parish 
which exists only in imagination; and as many people dislike the 
trouble of investigation, the patterer gets enough to raise a stock 
in trade, and divides the spoil between the swag-shop and the gin- 
palace. Sometimes they are detected, and get a 'drag' (three 
months in prison).' 


In the old times, the jougeleurs and jestours were assisted by the 
chaunters. In the present day the running patterer is accompanied 
generally by a chaunter, so presenting a further point of resem- 
blance between ancient and modern street-folk. The chaunter now 
not only sings, but fiddles, for within these few years the running 
patterers, to render their performances more attractive, are some- 
times accompanied by musicians. 

I am told, however, that there are only fifty running patterers 

M ay hew' s London 149 

who are regularly their own chaunters, fiddling to their songs, while 
the mob work as usual, or one man sings, or speaks and sings, with 
the chaunter. Two of these men are known as Brummagem Jack, 
and the Country Paganini. From twenty to thirty patterers, 
however, are chaunters also, when they think the occasion re- 
quires it. 

'Next to murders, fires are tidy browns,' I was told by a patterer 
experienced both in 'murders' and 'fires.' The burning of the 
old Houses of Parliament was very popular among street-sellers, 
and for the reason which ensures popularity to a commercial 
people; it was a source of profit, and was certainly made the most 
of. It was the work of incendiaries, — of ministers, to get rid of 
perplexing papers, — of government officers with troublesome 
accounts to balance, — of a sporting lord, for a heavy wager, — of 
a conspiracy of builders, — and of 'a unsuspected party.' The older 
'hands' with whom I conversed on the subject, all agreed in stating 
that they 'did well' on the fire. 


To 'work a litany' in the streets is considered one of the higher 
exercises of professional skill in the part of the patterer. In working 
this, a clever patterer — who will not scruple to introduce anything 
out of his head which may strike him as suitable to his audience — 
is very particular in his choice of a mate, frequently changing his 
ordinary partner, who may be good 'at a noise' or a ballad, but not 
have sufficient acuteness or intelligence to patter politics as if he 
understood what he was speaking about. I am told that there are 
not twelve patterers in London whom a critical professor of street 
elocution will admit to be capable of 'working a catechism' or a 

This branch of a street profession continued to be followed, half 
surreptitiously, until after the subsidence of the political ferment 
consequent on the establishment of a new franchise and the partial 
abolition of an old one. The calling, however, has never been 
popular among street purchasers, and I believe that it is sometimes 
followed by a street-patterer as much from the promptings of the 
pride of art as from the hope of gain. 

15 Mayhem's London 


It is necessary to give a short account of a few of the best and 
longest known of those stereotyped 'literary forgeries,' if so they 
may be called; no new cocks, except for an occasion, have been 
printed for some years. 

One of the stereotyped cocks is, the 'Married Man Caught in a 
Trap.' One man had known it sold 'for years and years,' and it 
served, he said, when there was any police report in the papers 
about sweethearts in coal-cellars, &c. The illustration embraces 
two compartments. In one a severe-looking female is assaulting a 
man, whose hat has been knocked off by the contents of a water- 
jug, which a very stout woman is pouring on his head from a 
window. In the other compartment, as if from an adjoining room, 
two women look on encouragingly. The subject matter, however, 
is in no accordance with the title or the embellishment. It is a love- 
letter from John S — n to his most 'adorable Mary.' He expresses 
the ardour of his passion, and then twits his adored with something 
beyond a flirtation with Robert E — , a 'decoyer of female innoc- 
ence.' Placably overlooking this, however, John S — n continues: — 

'My dearest angel consent to my request, and keep me no longer 
in suspense — nothing, on my part, shall ever be wanting to make you 
happy and comfortable. My apprenticeship will expire in four months 
from hence, when I intend to open a shop in the small ware lino, and 
with your abilities in dress-making and self-adjusting stay-maker, and 
the assistance ofafew female mechanics, we shall be able to realize an 
ind epondency . ' 

'Many a turn in seductions talked about in the papers and not 
talked about nowhere,' said one man, 'has that slum served for, 
besides other things, such as love-letters, and confessions of a cer- 
tain lady in this neighbourhood.' 


The patterers, as a class, usually frequent the low lodging-houses. 
I shall therefore now proceed to give some further information 
touching the abodes of these people — reminding the reader that I 
am treating of patterers in general, and not of any particular order, 
as the 'paper workers.' 

Mayhew's London 151 

In applying the epithet 'low' to these places, I do but adopt the 
word commonly applied, either in consequence of the small charge 
for lodging, or from the character of their frequenters. 

The proprietors of these lodging-houses mostly have been, I am 
assured, vagrants, or, to use the civiller and commoner word, 
'travellers' themselves, and therefore sojourners, on all necessary 
occasions, in such places. In four cases out of five I believe this to 
be the case. The proprietors have raised capital sufficient to start 
with, sometimes by gambling at races, sometimes by what I have 
often, and very vaguely, heard described as a 'run of luck'; and 
sometimes, I am assured, by the proceeds of direct robbery. A few 
of the proprietors may be classed as capitalists. One of them, who 
has a country house in Hampstead, has six lodging-houses in or 
about Thrawl-street, Whitechapel. He looks in at each house every 
Saturday, and calls his deputies — for he has a deputy in each 
house — to account; he often institutes a stringent check.' He gives 
a poor fellow money to go and lodge in one of his houses, and report 
the number present. Sometimes the person so sent meets with the 
laconic repulse — 'Full'; and woe to the deputy if his return do not 
evince this fulness. Perhaps one in every fifteen of the low lodging- 
houses in town is also a beer-shop. Very commonly so in the 

To 'start' a low lodging-house is not a very costly matter. 
Furniture which will not be saleable in the ordinary course of 
auction, or of any traffic, is bought by a lodging-house 'starter.' 
A man possessed of some money, who took an interest in a brick- 
layer, purchased for 20/., when the Small Pox Hospital, by King's- 
cross, was pulled down, a sufficiency of furniture for four lodging- 
houses, in which he 'started' the man in question. None others 
would buy the furniture, from a dread of infection. 

Some of the lodging-houses present no appearance differing from 
that of ordinary houses; except, perhaps, that their exterior is 
dirtier. Some of the older houses have long flat windows on the 
ground-floor, in which there is rather more paper, or other sub- 
stitutes, than glass. 'The windows there, sir,' remarked one man, 
'are not to let the light in, but to keep the cold out.' 

In the abodes in question there seems to have become tacitly 
established an arrangement as to what character of lodgers shall 
resort thither; the thieves, the prostitutes, and the better class of 

15 2 Mayhem's London 

street-sellers or traders, usually resorting to the houses where they 
will meet the same class of persons. The patterers reside chiefly in 
Westminster and Whitechapel. 

Some of the lodging-houses are of the worst class of low brothels, 
and some may even be described as brothels for children. 

The beds are of flock, and as regards the mere washing of the rug, 
sheet, and blanket, which constitute the bed-furniture, are in 
better order than they were a few years back; for the visitations of 
the cholera alarmed even the reckless class of vagrants, and those 
whose avocations relate to vagrants. In perhaps a tenth of the low 
lodging-houses of London, a family may have a room to them- 
selves, with the use of the kitchen, at so much a week — generally 
2s. 6d. for a couple without family, and 3s. Gd. where there are 
children. To let out 'beds' by the night is however the general rule. 


In my former and my present inquiries, I received many statements 
on this subject. Some details, given by coarse men and boys in the 
grossest language, are too gross to be more than alluded to, but 
the full truth must be manifested, if not detailed. 

And first, as to the want of cleanliness, comfort, and decency: 
'Why, sir,' said one man, who had filled a commercial situation of 
no little importance, but had, through intemperance, been reduced 
to utter want, 'I myself have slept in the top room of a house not 
far from Drury-lane, and you could study the stars, if you were so 
minded, through the holes left by the slates having been blown off 
the roof.' 

The same man told me (and I received abundant corroboration 
of his statement, besides that incidental mention of the subject 
occurs elsewhere), that he had scraped together a handful of bugs 
from the bed-clothes, and crushed them under a candlestick, and 
had done that many a time, when he could only resort to the lowest 
places. He had slept in rooms so crammed with sleepers — he 
believed there were 30 where 12 would have been a proper number 
— that their breaths in the dead of night and in the unventilated 
chamber, rose (I use his own words) 'in one foul, choking steam of 
stench.' This was the case most frequently a day or two prior to 

Mayliew's London 153 

Greenwich Fair or Epsom Races, when the congregation of the 
wandering classes, who are the supporters of the low lodging- 
houses, was the thickest. It was not only that two or even three 
persons jammed themselves into a bed not too large for one full- 
sized man; but between the beds — and their partition one from 
another admitted little more than the passage of a lodger — were 
placed shake-downs, or temporary accommodation for nightly 
slumber. In the better lodging-houses the shake-downs are small 
palliasses or mattresses; in the worst, they are bundles of rags of 
any kind; but loose straw is used only in the country for shake- 

At some of the busiest periods, numbers sleep on the kitchen 
floor, all huddled together, men and women (when indecencies are 
common enough), and without bedding or anything but their 
scanty clothes to soften the hardness of the stone or brick floor. 
A penny is saved to the lodger by this means. More than 200 have 
been accommodated in this way in a large house. The Irish, at 
harvest-time, very often resort to this mode of passing the night. 

Another man who had moved in good society, said, when asked 
about his resorting to a low lodging-house: 'When a man's lost 
caste in society, he may as well go the whole hog, bristles and all, 
and a low lodging-house is the entire pig.' 

Notwithstanding many abominations, I am assured that the 
lodgers, in even the worst of these habitations, for the most part 
sleep soundly. But they have, in all probability, been out in the 
open air the whole of the day, and all of them may go to their 
couches, after having walked, perhaps, many miles, exceedingly 
fatigued, and some of them half-drunk. 'Why, in course, sir,' said 
a 'traveller,' whom I spoke to on this subject, 'if you is in a country 
town or village, where there's only one lodging-house, perhaps, 
and that a bad one — an old hand can always suit his-self in London 
— you must get half-drunk, or your money for your bed is wasted. 
There's so much rest owing to you, after a hard day; and bugs and 
bad air'll prevent its being paid, if you don't lay in some stock of 
beer, or liquor of some sort, to sleep on. It's a duty you owes your- 
self; but, if you haven't the browns, why, then, in course, you 
can't pay it.' 

I have now to speak of the habitual violation of all the injunc- 
tions of law, of all the obligations of morality, and of all the 


15 4 Mayhew's London 

restraints of decency, seen continually in the vilest of the lodging- 

Some of the 'fences' board, lodge, and clothe, two or three boys - 
or girls, and send them out regularly to thieve, the fence usually 
taking all the proceeds, and if it be the young thief has been success- 
ful, he is rewarded with a trifle of pocket-money, and is allowed 
plenty of beer and tobacco. 

The licentiousness of the frequenters, and more especially of the 
juvenile frequenters, of the low lodging-houses, must be even more 
briefly alluded to. In some of these establishments, men and women, 
boys and girls, — but perhaps in no case, or in very rare cases, 
unless they are themselves consenting parties, herd together promis- 
cuously. The information which I have been given from a reverend 
informant indicates the nature of the proceedings, when the sexes 
are herded indiscriminately, and it is impossible to present to the 
reader, in full particularity, the records of the vice practised. 

Boys have boastfully carried on loud conversations, and from 
distant parts of the room, of their triumphs over the virtue of girls, 
and girls have laughed at and encouraged the recital. Three, four, 
five, six, and even more boys and girls have been packed, head and 
feet, into one small bed; some of them perhaps never met before. 
On such occasions any clothing seems often enough to be regarded 
as merely an incumbrance. Sometimes there are loud quarrels and 
revilings from the jealousy of boys and girls, and more especially 
of girls whose 'chaps' have deserted or been inveigled from them. 
At others, there is an amicable interchange of partners, and next 
day a resumption of their former companionship. 

The younger lodgers in such places live by thieving and pocket- 
picking, or by prostitution. The charge for a night's lodging is 
generally 2d., but smaller children have often been admitted for Id. 
If a boy or girl resort to one of these dens at night without the 
means of defraying the charge for accommodation, the 'mot of 
the ken' (mistress of the house) will pack them off, telling them 
plainly that it will be no use their returning until they have stolen 
something worth 2d. 

The indiscriminate admixture of the sexes among adults, in many 
of these places, is another evil. Even in some houses considered of 
tho better sort, men and women, husbands and wives, old and 
young, strangers and acquaintances, sleep in tho same apartment, 

Mayhew's London 155 

and if they choose, in the same bed. Any remonstrance at some 
act of gross depravity or impropriety, on the part of a woman not 
so utterly hardened as the others, is met with abuse and derision. 
One man who described these scenes to me, and had long witnessed 
them, said that almost the only women who ever hid their faces or 
manifested dislike of the proceedings they could not but notice 
(as far as he saw), were poor Irishwomen, generally those who live 
by begging: 'But for all that,' the man added, 'an Irishman or 
Irishwoman of that sort will sleep anywhere, in any mess, to save 
a halfpenny, though they may have often a few shillings, or a good 
many, hidden about them.' 

There are now fewer of such filthy receptacles than there were. 
Some have been pulled down — especially for the building of Com- 
mercial-street, in Whitechapel, and of New Oxford-street — and 
some have fallen into fresh and improved management. Of those 
of the worst class, however, there may now be at least thirty in 
London; while the low lodgings of all descriptions, good or bad, 
are more frequented than they were a few years back. 


'Screeving' — that is to say, writing false or exaggerated accounts 
of afflictions and privations, is a necessary corollary to 'Pattering,' 
or making pompous orations in public. 

Of professional beggars there are two kinds — those who 'do it 
on the blob' (by word of mouth), and those who do it by 'screeving,' 
that is, by petitions and letters, setting forth imaginary cases of 

Of these documents there are two sorts, "slums" (letters) and 
"fakements" (petitions). These are seldom written by the persons 
who present or send them, but are the production of a class of 
whom the public little imagine either the number or turpitude. 
I mean the "professional begging-letter writers." 

Persons who write begging-letters for others sometimes, though 
seldom, beg themselves. They are in many cases well supported by 
the fraternity for whom they write. A professional of this kind is 
called by the "cadgers," "their man of business." Their histories 
vary as much as their abilities; generally speaking they have been 

15 6 Mayhem's London 

clerks, teachers, shopmen, reduced gentlemen, or the illegitimate 
sons of members of the aristocracy; while others, after having 
received a liberal education, have broken away from parental 
control, and commenced the "profession" in early life, and will 
probably pursue it to their graves. 



The street-sellers of manufactured articles present, as a body, so 
many and often such varying characteristics, that I cannot offer to 
give a description of them as a whole, as I have been able to do 
with other and less diversified classes. 

Among them are several distinct and peculiar street-characters, 
such as the pack-men, who carry their cotton or linen goods in 
packs on their backs, and are all itinerants. Then there are duffers, 
who vend pretended smuggled goods, handkerchiefs, silks, tobacco 
or cigars; also, the sellers of sham sovereigns and sham gold rings 
for wagers. The crockery-ware and glass-sellers (known in the 
street-trade as 'crocks'), are peculiar from their principle of 
bartering. They will sell to any one, but they sell very rarely, and 
always clamour in preference for an exchange of their wares for 
wearing-apparel of any kind. They state, if questioned, that their 
reason for doing this is — at least I heard the statement from some 
of the most intelligent among them — that they do so because, if 
they 'sold outright,' they required a hawker's licence, and could 
not sell or 'swop' so cheap. 

Some of the street-sellers of manufactured articles are also 
patterers. Among these are the 'cheap Jacks,' or 'cheap Johns'; 
the grease and stain removers; the corn-salve and plate-ball 
vendors; the sellers of sovereigns and rings for wagers; a portion 
of the lot-sellers; and the men who vend poison for vermin and go 
about the streets with live rats clinging to, or running about, their 



The result of my inquiries leads me to the conclusion, that the 
street- vendors of any article which is the product of the skill of the 

Mayheufs London 15 7 

handicraftsman, have been, almost always, in their first outset 
in a street life, connected in some capacity or other with the trade, 
the manufactures of which they vend. 

The metal sold in the street may be divided into street-hardware, 
street-tinware, and street-jewellery. I shall begin with the former. 

The street- sellers of hardware are, I am assured, in number 
about 100, including single men and families; for women 'take their 
share' in the business, and children sell smaller things. 

All these street-sellers obtain their supplies at 'the swag-shops;' 
of which I shall speak hereafter. The main articles of their trade are 
tea-boards, waiters, snuffers, candlesticks, bread-baskets, cheese- 
trays, Britannia metal tea-pots and spoons, iron kettles, pans, and 
coffee-pots. The most saleable things, I am told by a man who has 
been fifteen years in this and similar street trades, are at present 
18-in. tea-boards, bought at 'the swags' at from 10s. Qd. a doz., 
to 4s. each; 24-in. boards, from 20s. the doz. to 5s. each; bread- 
baskets, 4s. Qd. the doz.; and Britannia metal tea-pots, 10s. the doz. 
These tea-pots have generally what is called 'loaded bottoms;' 
the lower part of the vessel is 'filled with composition, so as to look 
as if there was great weight of metal, and as if the pot would melt 
for almost the lSd. which is asked for it, and very often got.' 


This class of street-salesmen, who are perhaps the largest dealers 
of all in hardware, are not so numerous as they were some few 
years ago — the Excise Laws, as I have before remarked, having 
interfered with their business. The principal portion of those I have 
met are Irishmen, who, notwithstanding, generally 'hail' from 
Sheffield, and all their sales are effected in an attempt at the York- 
shire dialect, interspersed, however, with an unmistakeable brogue. 
The brogue is the more apparent when cheap John gets a little out 
of temper — if his sales are fiat, for instance, he'll say, 'By J — s, 
I don't belaive you've any money with you, or that you've lift any 
at home, at all, at all. Bad cess to you!' 

There are, however, many English cheap Johns, but few of them 
are natives of Sheffield or Birmingham, from which towns they 
invariably 'hail.' Tneir system of selling is to attract a crowd of 

158 Mayhew's London 

persons by an harangue after the following fashion: 'Here I am, 
the original cheap John from Sheffield. I've not come here to get 
money; not I; I've come here merely for the good of the public, 
and to let you see how you've been imposed upon by a parcel of 
pompous shopkeepers, who are not content with less than 100 per 
cent, for rubbish. They got up a petition — which I haven't time to 
read to you just now — offering me a large sum of money to keep 
away from here. But no, I had too much friendship for you to 
consent, and here I am, cheap John, born without a shirt, one day 
while my mother was out, in a haystack; consequently I've no 
parish, for the cows eat up mine, and therefore I've never no fear 
of going to the workhouse.' 

The cheap John always takes care to receive payment before he 
hazards his jokes, which I need scarcely remark are ready made, 
and mostly ancient and worn threadbare, the joint property of the 
whole fraternity of cheap Johns. After supplying his audience with 
one particular article, he introduces another: 'Here is a carving- 
knife and fork, none of your wasters, capital buck-horn handle, 
manufactured of the best steel, in a regular workmanlike manner; 
fit for carving in the best style, from a sparrow to a bullock. I don't 

ask 7s. 6cZ. for this — although go over to Mr. , the ironmonger, 

and he will have the impudence to ask you 15s. for a worse article.' 
(The cheap Johns always make comparisons as to their own prices 
and the shopkeepers, and sometimes mention their names.) 'I say 
5s. for the carving-knife and fork. Why, it's an article that'll almost 
fill your children's bellies by looking at it, and will always make 
1 lb. of beef go as far as 6 lb. carved by any other knife and fork. 
Well, 4s., 3s., 2s., Is. Ud., Is. 10d., Is. 9d., Is. 8d., Is. Id., lSd. 
I ask no more, nor I'll take no less.' 

They never under-sell each other (unless they get in a real 
passion); this but seldom happens, but when it does they are 
exceedingly bitter against each other. I cannot state the language 
they use, further than that it reaches the very summit of black- 
guardism. They have, however, assumed quarrels, for the purpose 
of holding a crowd together, and chaff goes round, intended to 
amuse their expected customers. 

Mayhew's London 15 9 


I now give an example of one of the classes driven to the streets 
by utter inability to labour. I have already spoken of the sterling 
independence of some of these men possessing the strongest claims 
to our sympathy and charity, and yet preferring to sell rather than 
beg. As I said before, many ingrained beggars certainly use the 
street trade as a cloak for alms-seeking, but as certainly many more, 
with every title to our assistance, use it as a means of redemption 
from beggary. That the nutmeg-grater seller is a noble example of 
the latter class, I have not the least doubt. 

His struggles to earn his own living (notwithstanding his physical 
incapacity even to put the victuals to his mouth after he has earned 
them), are instances of a nobility of pride that are I believe without 
a parallel. The poor creature's legs and arms are completely 
withered; indeed he is scarcely more than head and trunk. His 
thigh is hardly thicker than a child's wrist. His hands are bent 
inward from contraction of the sinews, the fingers being curled up 
and almost as thin as the claws of a bird's foot. He is unable even 
to stand, and cannot move from place to place but on his knees, 
which are shod with leather caps, like the heels of a clog, strapped 
round the joint; the soles of his boots are on the upper leathers, that 
being the part always turned towards the ground while he is 
crawling along. His countenance is rather handsome than other- 
wise; the intelligence indicated by his ample forehead is fully 
borne out by the testimony as to his sagacity in his business, and 
the mild expression of his eye by the statements as to his feeling for 
all others in affliction. 

'I sell nutmeg-graters and funnels,' said the cripple to me; 'I 
sell them at Id. and l^d. a piece. I get mine of the man in whose 
house I live. He is a tinman, and makes for the street-trade and 
shops and all. I pay Id. a dozen for them, and I get I2d. or I8d. 
a dozen, if I can when I sell them, but I mostly get only a penny 
a piece — it's quite a chance if I have a customer at 1 \d. Some days 
I sell only three — some days not one — though I'm out from ten 
o'clock till six. 

'On a wet day when I can't get out, I often go without food. 

16 Mayhew's London 

I may have a bit of bread and butter give me, but that's all — then 
I lie a-bed. I feel miserable enough when I see the rain come down 
of a week day, I can tell you. Ah, it is very miserable indeed lying 
in bed all day, and in a lonely room, without perhaps a person to 
come near one — helpless as I am — and hear the rain beat against 
the windows, and all that without nothing to put in your lips. I've 
done that over and over again where I lived before; but where I am 
now I'm more comfortable like. My breakfast is mostly bread and 
butter and tea; and my supper, bread and butter and tea with a 
bit of fish, or a small bit of meat. What my landlord and landlady 
has I share with them. I never break my fast from the time I go 
out in the morning till I come home — unless it is a halfpenny orange 
I buy in the street; I do that when I feel faint. I have only been 
selling in the streets since this last winter. I was in the workhouse 
with a fever all the summer. I was destitute afterwards, and obliged 
to begin selling in the streets. The Guardians gave me 5s. to get 
stock. I had always dealt in tin ware, so I knew where to go to buy 
my things. 

'Often after I've been walking, my limbs and back ache so 
badly that I can get no sleep. Across my limbs it feels as if I'd got 
some great weight, and my knees are in a heat, and throb, and 
feel as if a knife was running into them. When I go up-stairs I have 
to crawl upon the back of my hands and knees. I can't lift nothing 
to my mouth. The sinews of my hands is all contracted. I am 
obliged to have things held to my lips for me to drink, like a child. 
I can use a knife and fork by leaning my arm on the table and then 
stooping my head to it. I can't wash nor undress myself. Sometimes 
I think of my helplessness a great deal. The thoughts of it used to 
throw me into fits at one time — very bad. It's the Almighty's will 
that I am so, and I must abide by it.' 


By those who are not connected with the street trade, the pro- 
prietors of the swag-shops are often called 'warehousemen' or 
'general dealers,' and even 'slaughterers.' These descriptions 
apply but partially. 'Warehousemen' or 'general dealers' are 
vague terms, which I need not further notice. The wretchedly un- 
derpaid and over-worked shoe-makers, cabinet-makers and others 

Mayhew^s London 161 

call these places 'slaughterhouses,' when the establishment is in 
the hands of tradesmen who buy their goods of poor workmen 
without having given orders for them. On Saturday afternoons pale- 
looking men may be seen carrying a few chairs, or bending under 
the weight of a chiffonier or a chest of drawers, in Tottenham- 
court Road, and thoroughfares of a similar character in all parts. 
These are 'small masters,' who make or (as one man said to me, 
'No, sir, I don't make these drawers, I put them together, it can't 
•be called making; it's not workmanship') who 'put together' in 
the hastiest manner, and in any way not positively offensive to the 
eye, articles of household furniture. The 'slaughterers' who supply 
all the goods required for the furniture of a house, buy at 'starva- 
tion prices' (the common term), the artificer being often kept 
waiting for hours, and treated with every indignity. One East-end 
'slaughterer' (as I ascertained in a former inquiry) used habitually 
to tell that he prayed for wet Saturday afternoons, because it put 
20/ . extra into his pocket! This was owing to the damage sustained 
in the appearance of any painted, varnished, or polished article, by 
exposure to the weather; or if it had been protected from the 
weather, by the unwillingness of the small master to carry it to 
another slaughterhouse in the rain. Under such circumstances — 
and under most of the circumstances of this unhappy trade — the 
poor workman is at the mercy of the slaughterer. 

The slaughterer buys as a rule, with hardly an exception, the 
furniture, or whatever it may be, made for the express purpose 
of being offered to him on speculation of sale. The swag shop-keeper 
orders his goods as a rule, and buys, as an exception, in the manner 
in which the slaughterer buys ordinarily. The slaughterer sells by 
retail; the swag shop-keeper only by wholesale. 

Most of the articles, of the class of which I now treat, are 'Brum- 
magen made.' An experienced tradesman said to me: 'All these 
low-priced metal things, fancy goods and all, which you see about, 
are made in Birmingham; in nineteen cases out of twenty at the 
least. They may be marked London, or Sheffield, or Paris, or any 
place — you can have them marked North Pole if you will — but 
they're genuine Birmingham. The carriage is lower from Birming- 
ham than from Sheffield — that's one thing.' 

The majority of the swag-shop proprietors are Jews. The wares 
which they supply to the cheap shops, the cheap Johns, and the 

16 2 Mayhem? 8 London 

street-sellers, in town and country, consist of every variety of 
article, apart from what is eatable, drinkable, or wearable, in which 
the trade class I have specified can deal. As regards what is wear- 
able, indeed, such things as braces, garters, &c, form a portion 
jof the stock of the swag-shop. 

Thp^wjnd'w nf ft flwag^shrvn^ pr esented, in confusion, an a rray 
ofnSrooch esXsome in coloured glass to imitate rubies, topazes, &c, 
some containing portraits, deeply coloured, in purple attire, and 
red cheeks, and some being very large cameos), time-pieces (with 
and without glasses), French toys with moveable figures, telescopes, 
American clocks, musical boxes, shirt-studs, backgammon-boards, 
tea-trays (one with a nondescript bird of most gorgeous green 
plumage forming a sort of centre-piece), razor-strops, writing-desks, 
sailors' knives, hair-brushes, and tobacco-boxes. 

Another window presented even a more 'miscellaneous assort- 
ment'; dirks (apparently not very formidable weapons), a mess of 
steel pens, in brown-paper packages and cases, and of black-lead 
pencils, pipe-heads, cigar-cases, snuff-boxes, razors, shaving- 
brushes, letter-stamps, metal tea-pots, metal tea-spoons, glass 
globes with artificial flowers and leaves within the glass (an im- 
provement one man thought on the old ornament of a reel in a 
bottle), Peel medals, Exhibition medals, roulette-boxes, scent 
bottles, quill pens with artificial flowers in the feathery part, fans, 
sidecombs, glass pen-holders, and pot figures (caricatures) of Louis 
Phillippe, carrying a very red umbrella, Marshal Haynau, with 
some instrument of torture in his hand, while over all loomed a 
huge English seaman, in yellow waistcoat and with a brick- coloured 


The cutlery sold in the streets of London consists of razors, pen- 
knives, pocket-knives, table and carving-knives and forks, scissors, 
shears, nail-filers, and occasionally (if ordered) lancets. The knives 
are of various kinds — such as sailors' knives (with a hole through 
the handle), butchers' knives, together with choppers and steels 
(sold principally at Newgate and Billingsgate Markets, and round 
about the docks), oyster and fish-knives (sold principally at 
Billingsgate and Hungerford Markets), bread-knives (hawked at the 

Mayhew^s London 16 3 

bakers' shops), ham and beef knives (hawked at the ham and beef 
shops), cheese-knives with tasters, and ham-triers, shoemakers' 
knives, and a variety of others. These articles are usually purchased 
at the 'swag-shops,' and the prices of them vary from 2\d. to Is. 
\\d. each. 

'Things within the last two or three years,' to quote the words 
of one of my informants, 'have been getting much worse in the 
streets; 'specially in the cutlery line. I can't give no account for 
it, I'm sure, sir; the sellers have not been half as many as they were. 
What's become of them that's gone, I can't tell; they're in the 
workhouse, I dare say.' But, notwithstanding this decrease in the 
number of sellers, there is a greater difficulty to vend their goods 
now than formerly. 'It's all owing to the times, that's all I can say. 
People, shopkeepers, and all says to me, I can't tell why things is 
so bad, and has been so bad in trade; but so they is. We has to walk 
farther to sell our goods, and people beat us down so terrible hard, 
that we can't get a penny out of them when we do sell. Sometimes 
they offers me dd., yes, and often 6d. for an 8|d. knife; and often 
enough 4d. for one that stands you in 3fd. — a \d. profit, think of 
that, sir. Then they say, "Well, my man, will you take my money ?" 
and so as to make you do so, they'll flash it before your eyes, as if 
they knew you was a starving, and would be sure to be took in by 
the sight of it. Yes, sir, it is a very hard life, and we has to put up 
with a good deal — a good deal — starvation and hard-dealing, and 
insults and knockings about, and all. And then you see the swag- 
shops is almost as hard on us as the buyers. The swag-men will say, 
if you merely makes a remark, that a knife they've sold you is 
cracked in the handle, "Oh, is it; let me see whereabouts;" and 
when you hands it to 'em to show it 'em, they'll put it back where 
they took it from, and tell you, "You're too particular by half, my 
man. You'd better go and get your goods somewhere else; here take 
your money, and go about your business, for we won't serve you at 
all." They'll do just the same with the scissors too, if you complains 
about their being a bit rusty. "Go somewhere else," they'll say, 
"We won't sarve you." Ah, sir, that's what it is to be a poor man; 
to have your poverty flung in your teeth every minute. People says, 
"to be poor and seem poor is the devil"; but to be poor, and be 
treated like a dog merely because you are poor, surely is ten 
thousand times worse. A street-seller now-a-days is looked upon 

164 Mayhew^s London 

as a "cadger," and is treated as one. To try to get a living for one's 
self is to do something shameful in these times.' 


It is customary with many trades, for the journeymen to buy such 
articles as they require in their business of those members of their 
craft who have become incapacitated for work, either by old age, 
or by some affliction. The tailors — the shoe-makers — the carpen- 
ters — and many others do this. These sellers are, perhaps, the most 
exemplary instances of men driven to the streets, or to hawking for 
a means of living; and they, one and all, are distinguished by that 
horror of the workhouse which I have before spoken of as consti- 
tuting a peculiar feature in the operative's character. 

The tailors' needle-sellers confining themselves more particularly 
to London consist of, at present, one old man, three blind, one 
paralyzed, and one widow; besides these, there are now in the 
alms-houses, two decrepit and one paralyzed; and one widow in 
the workhouse, all of whom, till recently, were needle-sellers, and 
originally connected with the trade. 

The tailors' hawkers buy their trimmings mostly at the retail 
shops. They have not stock-money sufficient, I am assured, to 
purchase at the wholesale houses, for 'such a thing as a paper of 
needles large tradesmen don't care about of selling us poor men.' 
They tell me that if they could buy wholesale they could get their 
goods one-fourth cheaper, and to be 'obligated' to purchase 
retail is a great drawback on their profits. They call at the principal 
tailors' workshops, and solicit custom of the journeymen; they are 
almost all known to the trade, both masters and men, and, having 
no other means of living, they are allowed to enter the masters' 

The blind needle-seller whom I saw was a respectable-looking 
man, with the same delicacy of hand as is peculiar to tailors, and 
which forms so marked a contrast to the horny palms of other 
workmen. He was tall and thin, and had that upward look remark- 
able in all blind men. His eyes gave no signs of blindness (the pupils 
being full and black), except that they appeared to be directed to 
no one object, and though fixed, were so without the least expres- 








The Steeet-sellee of Geease-Removing Composition 

Mayhem's London 16 7 

sion of observation. His long black surtout, though faded in colour, 
was far from ragged, having been patched and stitched in many 
places, while his cloth waistcoat and trousers were clean and neat — 
very different from the garments of street-sellers in general. In his 
hand he carried his stick, which, as he sat, he seemed afraid to part 
with, for he held it fast between his knees. He came to me accom- 
panied by his son, a good-looking rough-headed lad, habited in a 
washed-out-blue French kind of pinafore, and whose duty it was to 
lead his blind father about on his rounds. Though the boy was 
decently clad, still his clothes, like those of his father, bore many 
traces of that respectable kind of poverty which seeks by continu- 
ous mending to hide its rags from the world. The face of the 
father, too, was pinched, while there was a plaintiveness about his 
voice that told of a wretched spirit-broken and afflicted man. 
Altogether he was one of the better kind of handicraftsmen — one 
of those fine specimens of the operatives of this country — inde- 
pendent even in their helplessness, scorning to beg, and proud to be 
able to give some little equivalent for the money bestowed on them 

'I am 45 years of age next June,' said the blind tailor. 'It is 
upward of 30 years since I first went to work at the tailoring trade 
in London. I learnt my business under one of the old hands at Mr. 
Cook's, in Poland-street, and after that went to work at Guthrie's, 
in Bond-street. 

'About 15 years ago my eyes began to fail me without any pain 
at all; they got to have as it were a thick mist, like smoke, before 
them. I couldn't see anything clear. Working by gas-light at first 
weakened and at last destroyed the nerve altogether. I'm now in 
total darkness. I can only tell when the gas is lighted by the heat 
of it. 

'It is not the black clothes that is trying to the sight — black is 
the steadiest of all colours to work at; white and all bright colours 
makes the eyes water after looking at 'em for any long time; but of 
all colours scarlet, such as is used for regimentals, is the most blind- 
ing, it seems to burn the eye-balls, and makes them ache dreadful. 
After working at red there's always flying colours before the eyes; 
there's no steady colour to be seen in anything for some time. 
Everything seems all of a twitter, and to keep changing its tint. 
There's more military tailors blind than any others. A great number 
of tailors go blind, but a great many more has lost their sight since 

168 Mayhew's London 

gas-light has come up. Candle-light was not half so pernicious to the 
sight. Gas-light is so very heating, and there's such a glare with it 
that it makes the eyes throb, and shoot too, if you work long by it. 
I've often continued working past midnight with no other light than 
that, and then my eyes used to feel like two bits of burning coals in 
my head. And you see, sir, the worst of it was, as I found my sight 
going bad I was obliged to try it more, so as to keep up with my 
mates in the shop. At last my eyes got so weak that I was compelled 
to give up work, and go into the country, and there I stopped, 
living on my savings, and unable to do any work for fear of losing 
my sight altogether. I was away about three years, and then all my 
money was gone, and I was obligated, in spite of my eyes, to go 
back to work again. But then, with my sight defective as it was, 
I could get no employment at the honourable trade, and so I had to 
take a seat in a shop at one of the cheap houses in the city, and 
that was the ruin of me entirely; for working there, of course, I got 
"scratched" from the trade Society, and so lost all hope of being 
provided for by them in my helplessness. The workshops at this 
cheap house was both small and badly ventilated. It was about 
seven foot square, and so low, that as you sat on the floor you could 
touch the ceiling with the tip of your finger. In this place seven of us 
worked — three on each side and one in the middle. Two of my shop- 
mates were boys, or else I am sure it would not have held us all. 
There was no chimney, nor no window that could be opened to 
let the air in. It was lighted by a skylight, and this would neither 
open nor shut. The only means for letting out the foul air was one 
of them working ventilators — like cockades, you know, sir — fixed 
in one of the panes of glass; but this wouldn't work, so there we 
were, often from 5 in the morning till 10 at night, working in this 
dreadful place. There was no fire in the winter, though we never 
needed one, for the workshop was over-hot from the suffocation, 
and in the summer it was like an oven. This is what it was in the 
daytime, but mortal tongue can't tell what it was at night, with 
the two gas-lights burning away, and almost stifling us. Many a 
time some of the men has been carried out by the others fainting 
for air. They all fell ill, every one of them, and I lost my eyes and 
my living entirely by it. We spoke to the master repeatedly, telling 
him he was killing us, and though when he came up to the work- 
shop hisself, he was nearly blown back by the stench and heat, he 

Mayhem's London 169 

would not let us have any other room to work in — and yet he'd 
plenty of convenience up stairs. He paid little more than half the 
regular wages, and emploj'ed such men as myself — only those who 
couldn't get anything better to do. What with illness and all, I don't 
think my wages there averaged above 12s. a week; sometimes I 
could make 11. in the week, but then, the next week, maybe I'd be 
ill, and would get but a few shillings. It was impossible to save 
anything then — even to pay one's way was a difficulty, and, at last, 
I was seized with rheumatics on the brain, and obliged to go into 
St. Thomas's Hospital. I was there eleven months, and came out 
stone blind. I am convinced I lost my eyesight by working in that 
cheap shop.' 



The public-house hawkers are never so prosperous as those who 
confine their calling to private houses; they are often invited to 
partake of drink; are not the most industrious class of hawkers, 
and, to use their own language, are more frequently hard up than 
those who keep away from tap-room selling. The profits of the small 
hawkers in public-houses vary considerably. Some of them, when 
they have earned a shilling or two, are content to spend it before 
they leave the tap-room, and so they lose both their stock and profit. 
The man who gave me the routine of small hawkers' business 
I found in a tap-room in Ratcliffe Highway. He was hawking tea- 
spoons, and all the stock he possessed was half-a-dozen. These he 
importuned me to purchase with great earnestness. He prayed of 
me to lay out a trifle with him. He had not taken a penny the whole 
day he said, and had nothing to eat. 'What's much worse for such 
as me,' he added, 'I'm dying for a glass of rum.' I might have 
his tea-spoons, he told me, at any price. If I would but pay for 
a glass of rum for him they should be mine. I assured him some 
bread and cheese would do him more good, as he had not eaten 
anything that day; but still he would have the rum. With a tremb- 
ling hand he threw the liquor down his throat, smacked his lips, 
and said 'that there dram has saved my life.' A few minutes after- 
wards he sold his spoons to a customer for sixpence; and he had 
another glass of rum. 'Now,' said he, 'I'm all right for business; if I'd 

17 Mayhew^s London 

twopence more I could buy a dozen tea-spoons, and I should earn a 
"bob" or two yet before I went to bed.' After this he grew commun- 
icative, and told me he was as good a hawker as there was in 
London, and he thought he could do more than any other man with 
a small stock. He had two or three times resolved to better himself, 
and had 'put in the pin,'' meaning he had made a vow to refrain from 
drinking; but he had broken out again and gone on in his old 
course until he had melted the whole of his stock, though twice it 
had, during his sobriety, amounted to 51., and was often worth 
between 21. and 31. It was almost maddening when he came to his 
senses, he said, to find he had acted so foolishly; indeed, it was so 
disheartening to discover all the result of his good resolutions dis- 
sipated in a moment, that he declared he never intended to try 
again. After having drunk out his stock, he would if possible com- 
mence with half-a-dozen Britannia metal tea-spoons; these cost 
him Qd., and would sell for 9d. or Is. When one half-dozen were 
disposed of he would procure another, adding a knife, or a comb or 
two. If entirely destitute, he would stick a needle in a cork, and 
request to know of 'the parties' assembled in some tap-room, if 
they wanted anything in the ironmongery line, though the needle 
was all the stock he had. This was done for the purpose of 'raising 
the wind'; and by it he would be sure to obtain a glass or two of 
ale if he introduced himself with his 'ironmongery establishment' 
among the sailors. 


Under this head I include only such of the beggar street-sellers as 
are neither infirm nor suffering from any severe bodily affliction 
or privation. I am well aware that the aged — the blind — the lame 
and the halt often pretend to sell small articles in the street — such 
as boot-laces, tracts, cabbage-nets, lucifer-matches, kettle-holders, 
and the like; and that such matters are carried by them partly to 
keep clear of the law, and partly to evince a disposition to the 
public that they are willing to do something for their livelihood. 
Such, though beggars, are not 'lurkers' — a lurker being strictly 
one who loiters about for some dishonest purpose. Many modes of 
thieving as well as begging are termed 'lurking' — the 'dead 
lurk,' for instance, is the expressive slang phrase for the art of 

Mayhew^s London 171 

entering dwelling-houses during divine service. The term 'lurk,' 
however, is mostly applied to the several modes of plundering by- 
representations of sham distress. 

An inmate of one of the low lodging-houses has supplied me 
with the following statement: — 'Within my recollection,' says my 
informant, 'the great branch of trade among these worthies, was 
the sale of sewing cotton, either in skeins or on reels. In the former 
case, the article cost the "lurkers" about Sd. per pound; one pound 
would produce thirty skeins, which, sold at one penny each, or 
two for three halfpence, produced a heavy profit. The lurkers could 
mostly dispose of three pounds per day; the article was, of course, 
damaged, rotten, and worthless. 

'The mode of sale consisted in the "lurkers" calling at the several 
houses in a particular district, and representing themselves as 
Manchester cotton spinners out of employ. Long tales, of course, 
were told of the distresses of the operatives, and of the oppression 
of their employers; these tales had for the most part been taught 
them at the padding-ken, by some old and experienced dodger of 
"the school"; and if the spokesman could patter well, a much larger 
sum was frequently obtained in direct alms than was reaped by 
the sale.' 

Cotton on reels was — except to the purchaser — a still better 
speculation; the reels were large, handsomely mounted, and 
displayed in bold relief such inscriptions as the following: — 


patent cotton. 
120 Yards 

The reader, however, must divide the '120 yards,' here mentioned, 
by 12, and then he will arrive at something like the true secret as 
to the quantity; for the surface only was covered by the thread. 

'The "cotton Lurk" is now "cooper'd" (worn out); a more com- 
mon dodge — and, of course, only an excuse for begging — is to envel- 
ope a packet of "warranted" needles, or a few inches of "real 
Honiton lace" in an envelope, with a few lines to the "Lady of the 
House", or a printed bill, setting forth the misery of the manufac- 
turers, and the intention of the parties leaving the "fakement" to 
presume to call for an answer in a few hours.' 

There are besides these, two other classes known as 'Duffers' 

17 2 Mayheufs London 

and as 'Lumpers,' and sometimes the same man is both 'Duffer' 
and 'Lumper.' The two names are often confounded, but an 
intelligent street-seller, versed in all the arts and mysteries of this 
trade, told me that he understood by a 'Duffer,' a man who sold 
goods under false pretences, making out that they were smuggled, 
or even stolen, so as to enhance the idea of their cheapness; whereas 
a 'Lumper' would sell linens, cottons, or silks, which might be 
really the commodities represented; but which, by some manage- 
ment or other, were made to appear new when they were old, or 
solid when they were flimsy. 


By this name the street- sellers have long distinguished the ware- 
houses, or rather shops, where they purchase their goods. The term 
Swag, or Swack, or Sweg, is a Scotch word, meaning a large collec- 
tion, a 'lot.' The haberdashery, however, supplied by these estab- 
lishments is of a very miscellaneous character; which, perhaps, can 
best be shown by describing a 'haberdashery swag,' to which a 
street-seller, who made his purchases there, conducted me, and 
which, he informed me, was one of the most frequented by his 
fraternity, if not the most frequented, m the metropolis. 

The window was neither dingy, nor, as my companion expressed 
it, 'gay.' It was in size, as well as in 'dressing,' or 'show' — for 
I heard the arrangement of the window goods called by both those 
names by street people — half-way between the quiet plainness of a 
really wholesale warehouse, and the gorgeousness of a retail drapery 
concern, when a 'tremendous sacrifice' befools the public. Not a 
quarter of an inch of space was lost, and the announcements and 
prices were written many of them in a bungling school- boy- like 
hand, while others were the work of a professional 'ticket writer,' 
and show the eagerness of so many of this class of trade to obtain 
custom. In one corner was this announcement: 'To boot-makers. 
Boot fronts cut to any size or quantity.' There was neither boot 
nor shoe visible, but how a boot front can be cut 'to any quantity,' 
is beyond my trade knowledge. Half hidden, and read through 
laces, was another announcement, sufficiently odd, in a window 
decorated with a variety of combustible commodities: 'Hawkers 
supplied with fuzees cheaper than any house in London.' On the 

Mayhew^s London 17 3 

'ledge,' or the part shelving from the bottom of the window, 
within the shop, were paper boxes of steel purses with the price 
marked so loosely as to leave it an open question whether Is. Ofd. 
or lOfd. was the cost. 

In the centre of the window ledge was a handsome wreath of 
artificial flowers, marked 2\d. 'If a young woman was to go in to 
buy it at 2\d, I've seen it myself, sir,' said the street-seller, 'she's 
told that the ticket has got out of its place, for it belonged to the 
lace beneath, but as she'd made a mistake without thinking of the 
value, the flowers was Is. Qd. to her, though they was cheap at 
25. Qd.' 

From this account it will be seen that the swag or wholesale 
haberdashers are now very general traders; and that they trade 
'retail' as well as 'wholesale.' Twenty or twenty-five years ago, 
I am informed, the greater part of these establishments were really 
haberdashery swags; but so fierce became the competition in the 
trade, so keen the desire 'to do business,' that gradually, and 
more especially within these four or five years, they became 'all 
kinds of swags.' 

A highly respectable draper told me that he never could 
thoroughly understand where hosiery, haberdashery, or drapery, 
began or ended; for hosiers now were always glovers, and often 
shirt-makers; haberdashers were always hosiers (at the least), and 
drapers were everything; so that the change in the character of the 
shops from which the street-sellers of textile fabrics procure their 
supplies, is but in accordance with the change in the general dra- 
pery trade. 


Of the way of trading of a travelling-pedlar I had the following 
account from one of the body. 

When I saw him, his pack, which he carried slung over one 
shoulder, contained a few gown-pieces of printed cotton, nearly 
all with pink grounds; a few shawls of different sizes; and three rolls 
firmly packed, each with a card-label on which was neatly written, 
'French Merino. Full duty paid. A.B.— L.F.— 18— 33— 1851. 
French Chocolate.' There were also six neat paper packages, two 
marked 'worked collars,' three 'gauze handkerchiefs,' and the 

i 7 4 Mayhew's London 

other 'beautiful child's gros de naples.' The latter consisted of 4£ 
yards of black silk, sufficient for a child's dress. He carried with 
him, moreover, 5 umbrellas, one inclosed in a bright glazed cover, 
while from its mother-of-pearl handle hung a card addressed — 
'The Lady's Maid, Victoria Lodge, 13s. 6d.' 

'This is a very small stock,' he said, 'to what I generally carry, 
but I'm going on a country round to-morrow, and I want to get 
through it before I lay in a new one. I tell people that I want to 
sell off my goods cheap, as they're too good for country sale; and 
that's true, the better half of it. 

'I sell to women of all sorts. Smart-dressing servant-maids, 
perhaps, are my best customers, especially if they live a good way 
from any grand ticketing shop. I sold one of my umbrellas to one 
of them just before you spoke to me. She was standing at the door, 
and I saw her give half a glance at the umbrellas, and so I offered 
them. She first agreed to buy a very nice one at 3s. 3d. (which 
should have been 4s.), but I persuaded her to take one at 3s. 9d. 
(which should have been 4s. 6d.). "Look here, ma'am," said I, "this 
umbrella is much bigger you see, and will carry double, so when 
you're coming from a church of a wet Sunday evening, a friend 
can have the share of it, and very grateful he'll be, as he's sure to 
have his best hat on. There's been many a question put under an 
umbrella that way that's made a young lady blush, and take good 
care of her umbrella when she was married, and had a house of 
her own. I look sharp after the young and pretty ladies, Miss, and 
shall as long as I'm a bachelor." "0," says she, "such ridiculous 
nonsense. But I'll have the bigger umbrella, because it's often so 
windy about here, and then one must have a good cover if it rains 
as well." 

'Now, that piece of silk I shall, most likely, sell to the landlady 
of a public-house, where I see there's children. I shall offer it after 
I've got a bit of dinner there, or when I've said I want a bit. It's 
no use offering it there, though, if it isn't cheap; they're too good 
judges. Innkeepers aren't bad customers, I think, taking it alto- 
gether, to such as me, if you can get to talk to them, as you some- 
times can at their bars. They're generally wanting something, 
that's one step. I always tell them that they ought to buy of men, 
in my way, who live among them, and not of fine shop-keepers, 
who never came a-near their houses. I've sold them both cottons 

Mayhew^s London 17 5 

and linens, after such talk as that. I live at public-houses in the 
country. I sleep nowhere else. 

'My trade in town is nothing to what it was ten or a dozen years 
back. I don't know the reason exactly. I think so many threepenny- 
busses is one; for they'll take any servant, when she's got an after- 
noon, to a thoroughfare full of ticket-shops, and bring her back 
and her bundle of purchases too, for another 3d. I shall cut it 
altogether, I think, and stick to the country.' 


The pedlar tallyman is a hawker who supplies his customers with 
goods, receiving payment by weekly instalments, and derives his 
name from the tally or score he keeps with his customers. Linen 
drapery — or at least the general routine of linen-draper's stock, as 
silk-mercery, hosiery, woollen cloth, &c. — is the most prevalent 
trade of the tallyman. There are a few shoemakers and some house- 
hold furniture dealers who do business in the tally or 'score' 

The system does not prevail to so great an extent as it did some 
years back. The pedlar or hawking tallyman travels for orders, and 
consequently is said not to require a hawker's licence. 

Their mode of doing business is as follows: — they seldom knock 
at a door except they have a customer upon whom they call for 
the weekly instalment, but if a respectable-looking female happens 
to be standing at her door, she, in all probability, is accosted by the 
Scotchman, 'Do you require anything in my way to-day, ma'am?' 
This is often spoken in broad Scotch, the speaker trying to make it 
sound as much like English as possible. Without waiting for a 
reply, he then runs over a programme of the treasures he has to 
dispose of, emphasising all those articles which he considers likely 
to suit the taste of the person he addresses. She doesn't want per- 
haps any — she has no money to spare then. 'She may want some- 
thing in his way another day, may-be,' says the tallyman. 'Will she 
grant him permission to exhibit some beautiful shawls — the last 
new fashion? or some new style of dress, just out, and an extra- 
ordinary bargain?' The man's importunities, and the curiosity of 
the lady, introduces him into the apartment, — an acquaintance is 
called in to pass her opinion upon the tallyman's stock. Should she 

176 Mayhew's London 

still demur, he says, '0, I'm sure your husband cannot object — he 
will not be so unreasonable; besides, consider the easy mode of pay- 
ment, you'll only have to pay Is. Qd. a week for every pound's worth 
of goods you take; why it's like nothing; you possess yourself of 
respectable clothing and pay for them in such an easy manner that 
you never miss it; well, I'll call next week. I shall leave you this 
paper.' The paper left is a blank form to be filled up by the husband, 
and runs thus: — 'I agree on behalf of my wife to pay, by weekly in- 
stalments of Is. Qd. upon every pound's worth of goods she may 

The Scotchman takes stock of the furniture, &c; the value of 
what the room contains gives him a sufficiently correct estimate of 
the circumstances of his customers. His next visit is to the nearest 
chandler's shop, and there as blandly as possible he inquires into 

the credit, &c, of Mr. . If he deals, however, with the chandler, 

the tallyman accounts it a bad omen, as people in easy circum- 
stances seldom resort to such places. 'It is unpleasant to me,' he says 

to the chandler, 'making these inquiries; but Mrs. wishes to 

open an account with me, and I should like to oblige them if I 
thought my money was safe.' 'Do you trust them, and what sort 
of payers are they ? ' According to the reply — the tallyman deter- 
mines upon his course. But he rarely stops here; he makes inquiries 
also at the greengrocer's, the beer shop, &c. 

However charitably inclined the tallyman may be at first, he soon 
becomes, I am told, inured to scenes of misery, while the sole feeling 
in his mind at length is, 'I will have my money;' for he is often 
tricked, and in some cases most impudently victimised. I am told 
by a tallyman that he once supplied goods to the amount of 21., 
and when he called for the first instalment, the woman said she 
didn't intend to pay, the goods didn't suit her, and she would 
return them. The tallyman expressed his willingness to receive them 
back, whereupon she presented him a pawnbroker's duplicate. 
She had pledged them an hour after obtaining them. 


The street purveyors of corn-salve, or corn-plaster, for I heard 
both words used, are not more than a dozen in number; but, 
perhaps, none depend entirely upon the sale of corn-salve for a 

Mayhew's London 111 

living. As is the wont of the pattering class to which they belong, 
these men make rounds into the country and into the suburbs, but 
there are sometimes, on one day, a dozen 'working the main 
drags' (chief thoroughfares) of London; there are no women in 
the trade. The salve is most frequently carried on a small tray, 
slung in front of the street professional; but sometimes it is sold 
at a small stall or stand. 

One of the men in question speaks to the following purport: — 

'Here you are! here you are! all that has to complain of corns. 
As fast as the shoemaker lames you, I'll cure you. If it wasn't for 
me he dursn't sing at his work; bless you, but he knows I'll make 
his pinching easy to you. Hard corn, soft corn, any corn — sold 
again? Thank you, sir, you'll not have to take a 'bus home when 
you've used my corn-salve, and you can wear your boots out then; 
3 r ou can't when you've corns. Now, in this little box you see a 
large corn which was drawn by this very salve from the honourable 
foot of the late lamented Sir Robert Peel. It's been in my possession 
three years and four months, and though I'm a poor man — hard 
corn, soft corn, or any corn — though I'm a poor man, the more's 
the pity, I wouldn't sell that corn for the newest sovereign coined. 
I call it the free-trade corn, gen'l'men and leddis. No cutting and 
paring, and sharpening penknives, and venturing on razors to level 
your corns; this salve draws them out — only one penny — and with- 
out pain. But wonders can't be done in a moment. To draw out 
such a corn as I've shown you, the foot, the whole foot, must be 
soaked five minutes in warm soap and water. That makes the 
salve penetrate, and draw the corn, which then falls out, in three 
days, like a seed from a flower. Hard corn, soft corn, &c, &c.' 

The corn from 'the honourable foot' of Sir Robert Peel, or from 
the foot of any one likely to interest the audience, has been scraped 
and trimmed from a cow's heel, and may safely be submitted to 
the inspection and handling of the incredulous. 'There it is,' the 
corn-seller will reiterate — 'it speaks for itself.' 

One practice — less common than it was, however, — of the corn- 
salve street-seller, is to get a friend to post a letter — expressive of 
delighted astonishment at the excellence and rapidity of the corn- 
cure — at some post-office not very contiguous. If the salve-seller 
be anxious to remove the corns of the citizens, he displays this 
letter, with the genuine post-mark of Piccadilly, St. James's-street, 

178 Mayhew 's London 

Pall-mall, or any such quarter, to show how the fashionable world 
avails itself of his wares, cheap as they are, and fastidious as are 
the fashionable! 


This trade, I am informed by persons familiar with it, would be 
much more frequently carried on by street-folk, and in much 
greater numbers, were it not the one which of all street callings 
finds the least toleration from the police. 'You must keep your eyes 
on both corners of the street,' said one man, 'when you sell crackers; 
and what good is it the police stopping us ? The boys have only to 
go to a shop, and then it's all right.' 

The trade is only known in the streets at holiday seasons, and is 
principally carried on for a few days before and after the 5th of 
November, and again at Christmas-tide. 'Last November was 
good for crackers,' said one man; 'it was either Guy Faux day, 
or the day before, I'm not sure which now, that I took 15s., and 
nearly all of boys, for Waterloo crackers and ball crackers (the 
common trade names), "Waterloo" being the "pulling crackers." 
At least three parts was ball crackers. I sold them from a barrow 
wheeling it about as if it was hearthstone, and just saying quietly 
when I could, "Six a penny crackers." The boys soon tell one an- 
other. All sorts bought of me; doctors' boys, school boys, pages, boys 
as was dressed beautiful, and boys as hadn't neither shoes nor 
stockings. It's sport for them all.' 



This is one of the employments to which boys, whom neglect, ill- 
treatment, destitution, or a vagrant disposition, have driven or 
lured to a street life, seem to resort to almost as readily as to the 
offers, "Old your 'os, sir?' 'Shall I carry your passel, marm?' 

The trifling capital required to enter into the business is one 
cause of its numbering many followers. The 'fuzees,' as I most 
frequently heard them called, are sold at the 'Congreve shops,' 
and are chiefly German made. At one time, indeed, they were 

Mayhew^s London 179 

announced as 'German tinder.' The wholesale charge is 4|d. per 
1,000 'lights.' The 1,000 lights are apportioned into fifty rows, 
each of twenty self-igniting matches; and these 'rows' are sold in 
the streets, one or two for \d., and two, three, or four Id. It is 
common enough for a juvenile fuzee-seller to buy only 500; so that 
2\d. supplies his stock in trade. 

The boys (for the majority of the street-traders who sell only 
fuzees, are boys) frequent the approaches to the steam-boat piers, 
the omnibus stands, and whatever places are resorted to by persons 
who love to smoke in the open air. Some of these young traders 
have neither shoes nor stockings, more especially the Irish lads, 
who are at least half the number, and their apology for a cap fully 
displays the large red ears, and flat features, which seem to dis- 
tinguish a class of the Irish children in the streets of London. 
Some Irish boys hold out their red-tipped fuzees with an appeal- 
ing look, meant to be plaintive, and say, in a whining tone, 
'Spend a halfpenny on a poor boy, your honour.' Others offer 
them, without any appealing look or tone, either in silence, 
or saying — 'Buy a fuzee to light your pipe or cigar, sir; a row 
of fights for a \d? 



There are many articles which, having become cheap in the 
shops, find their way to the street-traders, and after a brief, or 
comparatively brief, and prosperous trade has been carried on in 
them, gradually disappear. These are usually things which are 
grotesque or amusing, but of no utility, and they are supplanted 
by some more attractive novelty — a main attraction being that 
it is a novelty. 

Among such matters of street-trade are the elastic toys called 
'gutta-percha heads'; these, however, have no gutta-percha in 
their composition, but consist solely of a composition made of 
glue and treacle — the same as is used for printer's rollers. The 
heads are small coloured models of the human face, usually with 
projecting nose and chin, and wide or distorted mouth, which admit 
of being squeezed into a different form of features, their elasticity 
causing them to return to the original caste. The trade carried on 

18 Mayhem* s London 

in the streets in these toys was at one time extensive, but it seems 
now to be gradually disappearing. 


Fly-papers came, generally, into street-traffic, I am informed, 
in the summer of 1848. 

The fly-papers are sold wholesale at many of the oil- shops, but 
the principal shop for the supply of the street-traders is in White- 
chapel. The wholesale price is 2\d. a dozen, and the (street) retail 
charge is \d. a paper, or three Id. A young man, to whom I was 
referred, and whom I found selling, or rather bartering, crockery, 
gave me the following account of his experience of the fly-paper 
trade. He was a rosy-cheeked, strong-built young fellow, and said 
he thought he was 'getting on' in his present trade. He spoke 
merrily of his troubles, as I have found common among his class, 
when they are over. 

'I went into the fly-paper trade, — it's nearly two years ago, I 
think — because a boy I slept with did tidy in it. We bought the 
papers at the first shop as was open, and then got leave of the 
deputy of the lodging-house to catch all the flies we could, and we 
stuck them thick on the paper, and fastened the paper to our hats. 
I used to think, when I was in service, how a smart livery hat, with 
a cockade to it, would look, but instead of that I turned out, the 
first time in my life that ever I sold anything, with my hat stuck 
round with flies. I felt so ashamed I could have cried. I was 
miserable, I felt so awkerd. But I spent my last 2d. in some gin and 
milk to give me courage, and that brightened me up a bit, and I 
set to work. I went Mile-end way, and got out of the main streets, 
and I suppose I'd gone into streets and places where there hadn't 
often been fly-papers before, and I soon had a lot of boys following 
me, and I felt, almost, as if I'd picked a pocket, or done something 
to be 'shamed of. I could hardly cry "Catch 'em alive, only a half- 
penny!". But I found I could sell my papers to public-houses 
and shopkeepers, such as grocers and confectioners, and that 
gave me pluck. The boys caught flies, and then came up to me, 
and threw them against my hat, and if they stuck the lads 
set up a shout.' 

Mayhem's London 181 


The walking-sticks sold in the streets of London are principally 
purchased at wholesale houses in Mint-street and Union-street, 
Borough, and their neighbourhoods. 'There's no street-trade,' 
said an intelligent man, 'and I've tried most that's been, or prom- 
ised to be, a living in the streets, that is so tiresome as the walking- 
stick trade. There is nothing in which people are so particular. The 
stick's sure to be either too short or too long, or too thick or too 
thin, or too limp or too stiff. You would think it was a simple thing 
for a man to choose a stick out of a lot, but if you were with me a 
selling on a fine Sunday at Battersea Fields, you'd see it wasn't. 
0, it 's a tiresome job.' 


These traders are a distinct class from the stick-sellers, and have a 
distinct class of customers. The sale is considerable; for to many 
the possession of a whip is a matter of importance. If one be lost 
or stolen, for instance, from a butcher's cart at Newgate-market, 
the need of a whip to proceed with the cart and horse to its destin- 
ation, prompts the purchase in the quickest manner, and this is 
usually effected of the street-seller who offers his wares to the 
carters at every established resort. 

The commonest of the whips sold to cart-drivers is sometimes 
represented as whalebone covered with gut; but the whalebone is 
a stick, and the flexible part is a piece of leather, while the gut is 
a sort of canvas, made to resemble the worked gut of the better 
sort of whips, and is pasted to the stock; the thong — which in the 
common sort is called 'four-strands,' or plaits — being attached to 
the flexible part. Some of these wliips are old stocks recovered, 
and many arc sad rubbish. 

Of these traders very few are the ordinary street-sellers. Most 
of them have been in some way or other connected with the care 
of horses, and some were described to me as 'beaten-out country- 
men', who had come up to town in the hope of obtaining employ- 
ment, and had failed. 

18 2 Mayhew's London 


The pipes now sold in the streets and public-houses are the 'china 
bowls' and the 'comic heads.' The 'china-bowl' pipe has a bowl 
of white stone china, which unscrews, from a flexible tube or 'stem', 
as it is sometimes called, about a foot long, with an imitation- 
amber mouth-piece. They are retailed at Qd. each, and cost 4s. a dozen 
at the swag-shops. The 'comic heads' are of the clay ordinarily 
used in the making of pipes, and cost IQd. the dozen, or 15*. the 
gross. They are usually retailed at 2d. Some of the 'comic heads' 
may be considered as hardly well described by the name, as among 
them are death's-heads and faces of grinning devils. 'The best sale 
of the comic heads,' said one man, 'was when the Duke put the 
soldiers' pipes out at the barracks; wouldn't allow them to smoke 
there. It was a Wellington's head with his thumb to his nose, taking 
a sight, you know, sir. They went off capital. Lots of people that 
liked their pipe bought 'em, in the public-houses especial, 'cause, 
as I heerd one man — he was a boot- closer — say, "it made the old 
boy a-ridiculing of hisself." At that time — well, really, then, I can't 
say how long it's since — I sold little bone "tobacco-stoppers" — 
they're seldom asked for now, stoppers is quite out of fashion — and 
one of them was a figure of "old Nosey," the Duke you know — it 
was intended as a joke, you see, sir; a tobacco-6fo7>pe/\' 

There are now nine men selling pipes, which they frequently 
raffle at the public-houses; it is not unusual for four persons to 
raffle at \d. each, for a 'comic head.' The most costly pipes are 
not now offered in the streets, but a few are sold on race-courses. 
I am informed that none of the pipe-sellers depend entirely upon 
their traffic in those wares, but occasionally sell (and raffle) such 
things as china ornaments or table-covers, or tobacco or snuff- 

One branch of this trade, concerning which I heard many street- 
sellers very freely express their opinions, is the sale of 'indecent 
snuff-boxes.' Most of these traders insisted, with a not unnatural 
bitterness, that it would be as easy to stop the traffic as it was to 
stop Sunday selling in the park, but then 'gentlemen was accom- 
modated by it,' they added. These boxes and cigar-cases are, for 

Mayhem's London 18 3 

the most part, I am told, French, the lowest price being 2s. 6d. a 
box. One man, whose information was confirmed to me by others, 
gave me the following account of what had come within his own 
knowledge: — 

'There's eight and sometimes nine persons carrying on the 
indecent trade in snuff-boxes and cigar-cases. They make a good 
bit of money, but they're drunken characters, and often hard up. 
They've neither shame nor decency; they'll tempt lads or anybody. 
They go to public-houses which they know is used by fast gents 
that has money to spare. And they watch old and very young gents 
in the streets, or any gents indeed, and when they see them loitering 
and looking after the girls, they take an opportunity to offer a 
"spicy snuff-box, very cheap." It's a trade only among rich people, 
for I believe the indecent sellers can't afford to sell at all under 
2s. Qd., and they ask high prices when they get hold of a green 'un; 
perhaps one up on a spree from Oxford or Cambridge. Well, I can't 
say where they get their goods, nor at what price. That's their 
secret. They carry them in a box, with proper snuff-boxes to be 
seen when it's opened, and the others in a secret drawer beneath; 
or in their pockets. You may have seen a stylish shop in Oxford- 
street, and in the big window is large pipe heads of a fine quality, 
and on them is painted, quite beautiful, naked figures of women, 
and there's snuff-boxes and cigar-cases of much the same sort, but 
they're nothing to what these men sell.' 


Cigars, I am informed, have constituted a portion of the street- 
trade for upwards of 20 years, having been introduced not long 
after the removal of the prohibition on their importation from 
Cuba. It was not, however, until five or six years later that they 
were at all extensively sold in the streets; but the street-trade in 
cigars is no longer extensive, and in some respects has ceased to 
exist altogether. 

I am told by experienced persons that the cigars first vended in 
the streets and public-houses were really smuggled. I say 'really' 
smuggled, as many now vended under that pretence never came 
from the smuggler's hands. 'Well, now, sir,' said one man, 'the 
last time I sold Pickwicks and Cubers a penny apiece with lights 

184 Mayhew^s London 

for nothing, was at Greenwich Fair, on the sly rather, and them as 
I could make believe was buying a smuggled thing, bought far 
freer. Everybody likes a smuggled thing.' 


This is one of the street-trades which has been long in the hands of 
the Jews, and, unlike the traffic in pencils, sealing-wax, and other 
articles of which I have treated, it remains so principally still. 

In perhaps no article which is a regular branch of the street- 
trade, is there a greater diversity in the price and quality than in 
sponge. The street-sellers buy it at Is. (occasionally 6d.), and as 
high as 21s. the pound. At one time, I believe about 20 years back, 
when fine sponge in large pieces was scarce and dear, some street- 
sellers gave 28s. the pound, or, in buying a smaller quantity, 2s. 
an ounce. 

'I have sold sponge of all sorts,' said an experienced street- 
seller, 'both "fine toilet," fit for any lady or gentleman, and coarse 
stuff not fit to groom a ass with. That very common sponge is 
mostly Is. the lb. wholesale, but it's no manner of use, it's so sandy 
and gritty. It weighs heavy, or there might be a better profit on it. 
It has to be trimmed up and damped for showing it, and then it 
always feels hask (harsh) to the hand. It rubs to bits in no time. 
There was an old gent what I served with sponges, and he was very 
perticler, and the best customer I ever had, for his housekeeper 
bought her leathers of me. Like a deal of old coves that has nothing 
to do and doesn't often stir out, but hidles away time in reading or 
pottering about a garden, he was fond of a talk, and he'd give me 
a glass of something short, as if to make me listen to him, for I used 
to get fidgety, and he'd talk away stunning. He's dead now. He's 
told me, and more nor once, that sponges was more of a animal 
than a wegetable,' continued the incredulous street-seller, 'I do 

believe people reads theirselves silly. Such nonsense! Does it 

look like an animal? Where's its head and it's nose? He'd better 
have said it was a fish. And it's not a wegetable neither. But I'll tell 
you what it is, sir, and from them as has seen it where it's got with 
their own eyes. I have some relations as is sea-farin'-men, and I 
went a woyage once myself when a lad — one of my relations has 
seen it gathered by divers, I forgot where, from the rocks at the 

Mayhew^s London 185 

bottom and shores of the sea, and he says it's just sea-moss — stuff 
as grows there, as moss does to old wahs in England. That's what 
it is, sir.' 



The wash-leathers, sometimes called 'shammys' (chamois), now 
sold extensively in the streets, are for the most part the half of a 
sheep-skin, or of a larger lamb-skin. The skin is 'split' by machinery, 
and to a perfect nicety, into two portions. That known as the 
'grain' (the part to which the fleece of the animal is attached) is 
very thin, and is dressed into a 'skiver,' a kind of leather used in 
the commoner requirements of book-binding, and for such pur- 
poses as the lining of hats. The other portion, the 'flesh,' is dressed 
as wash-leather. These skins are bought at the leather-sellers and 
the leather-dressers, at from 2s. to 20s. the dozen. The higher priced, 
or those from 12s. are often entire, and not 'split' skins. The great 
majority of the street-sellers of wash-leathers are women, and 
principally Irishwomen. 


Twenty-five years ago the street-trade in spectacles was almost 
entirely in the hands of the Jews, who hawked them in their boxes 
of jewellery, and sold them in the streets and public-houses, carry- 
ing them in their hands, as is done still. The trade was then far 
more remunerative that it is at the present time to the street-folk 
carrying it on. 'People had more money then,' one old spectacle- 
seller, now vending sponges, said, 'and there wasn't so many forced 
to take to the streets, Irish particularly, and opticians' charges were 
higher than they are now, and those who wanted glasses thought 
they were a take-in if they wasn't charged a fair price. 0, times 
was very different then.' 

The spectacles in the street-trade are bought at swag-shops in 

The spectacles arc sold principally to working men, and are 
rarely hawked in the suburbs. The chief sale is in public-houses, 
but they are offered in all the busier thoroughfares and wherever 

186 Mayhew's London 

a crowd is assembled. 'The eye-glasses,' said a man who vended 
them, 'is sold to what I call counter-hoppers and black-legs. 
You'll see most of the young swells that's mixed up with gaming 
concerns at races — for there's gaming still, though the booths is 
put down in many places — sport their eye-glasses; and so did them 
as used to be concerned in getting up Derby and St. Leger "sweeps" 
at public-houses; least-ways I've sold to them, where sweeps was 
held, and they was busy about them, and offered me a chance, 
sometimes, for a handsome eye-glass. But they're going out of 
fashion, is eye-glasses, I think. The other day I stood and offered 
them for nearly five hours at the foot of London-bridge, which 
used to be a tidy pitch for them, and I couldn't sell one. All that 
day I didn't take a halfpenny.' 

There are sometimes 100 men, the half of whom are Jews and 
Irishmen in equal proportions, now selling spectacles and eye- 
glasses. Some of these traders are feeble from age, accident, contin- 
ued sickness, or constitution, and represent that they must carry 
on a 'light trade,' being incapable of hard work, even if they could 
get it. Two women sell spectacles along with Dutch drops. 


The making of dolls, like that of many a thing required for a 
mere recreation, a toy, a pastime, is often carried on amidst 
squalor, wretchedness, or privation, or — to use the word I have 
frequently heard among the poor — 'pinching.' Of this matter, 
however, I shall have to treat when I proceed to consider the 
manufacture of and trade in dolls generally, not merely as 
respects street-sale. 

Dolls are now so cheap, and so generally sold by open-air traders 
whose wares are of a miscellaneous character, as among the 'swag- 
barrow' or 'penny-a-piece' men of whom I have treated separately, 
that the sale of what are among the most ancient of all toys, as a 
'business of itself,' is far smaller, numerically, than it was. 

The dolls are most usually carried in baskets by street-sellers 
(who are not makers) and generally by women who are very poor. 
Here and there in the streets most frequented by the patrons of 
the open-air trade may be seen a handsome stall of dolls of all 
sizes and fashions, but these are generally the property of makers, 

Mayhew's London 187 

although those makers may buy a portion of their stock. There are 
also smaller stalls which may present the stock of the mere seller. 

The dolls for street traffic may be bought at the swag-shops or 
of the makers. For the little armless Id. dolls the maker charges 
the street-seller 85., and to the swag-shop keeper who may buy 
largely, Is. 6d. the dozen. Some little stalls are composed entirely 
of penny dolls; on others the prices run from Id. to Qd. The chief 
trade, however, among the class I now describe, is carried on by 
the display of dolls in baskets. If the vendor can only attract the 
notice of children — and more especially in a private suburban 
residence, where children are not used to the sight of dolls on stalls 
or barrows, or in shops — and can shower a few blessings and 
compliments, 'God be wid your bhutiful faces thin — and yours too, 
my lady, ma'am (with a curtsey to mistress or maid). Buy one of 
these dolls of a poor woman: shure they're bhutiful dolls and shuted 
for them angels o' the worruld'; under such circumstances, I say, 
a sale is almost certain. 

A vendor of dolls expresses an opinion that as long as ever there 
are children from two years old to ten, there will always be pur- 
chasers of dolls; 'but for all that,' said he, 'somehow or another 
'tis nothing of a trade to what it used to be. Spoiled children are 
our best customers. Whenever we sees a likely customer approach- 
ing — we, that is, those who know their business — always throw our- 
selves in the way, and spread out our dolls to the best advantage. 
If we hears young miss say she zvill have one, and cries for it, we are 
almost sure of a customer, and if we see her kick and fight a bit 
with the nuss-maid we are sure of a good price. If a child cries well 
we never baits our price. Most of the doll-sellers are the manu- 
facturers of the dolls — that is, I mean, they puts 'em together. 
The heads are made in Hamburgh; the principal places for buying 
them in London are at Alfred Davis's, in Houndsditch; White's, 
in Houndsditch; and Joseph's, in Leadenhall-street.' 



The number of Vermin-Destroyers and Rat-Catchers who ply 
their avocation in London has of late years become greatly 
diminished. One cause which I heard assigned for this was that 

18 8 Mayhew's London 

many ruinous old buildings and old streets had been removed, and 
whole colonies of rats had been thereby extirpated. Another was 
that the race of rat-catchers had become distrusted, and had either 
sought some other mode of subsistence, or had resorted to other 
fields for the exercise of their professional labours. 

The rat-catcher's dress is usually a velveteen jacket, strong 
corduroy trousers, and laced boots. Round his shoulder he wears 
an oil-skin belt, on which are painted the figures of huge rats, with 
fierce-looking eyes and formidable whiskers. His hat is usually 
glazed and sometimes painted after the manner of his belt. Occa- 
sionally — and in the country far more than in town — he carries in 
his hand an iron cage in which are ferrets, while two or three crop- 
eared terriers dog his footsteps. Sometimes a tamed rat runs about 
his shoulders and arms, or nestles in his bosom or in the large 
pockets of his coat. When a rat-catcher is thus accompanied, there 
is generally a strong aromatic odour about him, far from agreeable; 
this is owing to his clothes being rubbed with oil of thyme and 
oil of aniseed, mixed together. This composition is said to be so 
attractive to the sense of the rats (when used by a man who under- 
stands its due apportionment and proper application) that the 
vermin have left their holes and crawled to the master of the power- 
ful spell. I heard of one man (not a rat-catcher professionally) who 
had in this way tamed a rat so effectually that the animal would eat 
out of his mouth, crawl upon his shoulder to be fed, and then 
'smuggle into his bosom' (the words of my informant) 'and sleep 
there for hours.' The rat-catchers have many wonderful stories of 
the sagacity of the rat, and though in reciting their own feats, these 
men may not be the most trustworthy of narrators, any work on 
natural history will avouch that rats are sagacious may be trained 
to be very docile, and are naturally animals of great resources in all 
straits and difficulties. 

One great source of the rat-catcher's employment and emolument 
thirty years ago, or even to a later period, is now comparatively a 
nonentity. At that time the rat-catcher or killer sometimes received 
a yearly or quarterly stipend to keep a London granary clear of 
rats. I was told by a man who has for twenty-eight years been 
employed about London granaries, that he had never known a rat- 
catcher employed in one except about twenty or twenty-two years 
ago, and that was in a granary by the river-side. The professional 

Mayhew's London 189 

man, he told me, certainly poisoned many rats, 'which stunk so,' 
continued my informant — but then all evil odours in old buildings 
are attributed to dead rats — 'that it was enough to infect the corn. 
He poisoned two fine cats as well. But I believe he was a young 
hand and a bungler.' The rats, after these measures had been taken, 
seem to have deserted the place for three weeks or a month, when 
they returned in as great numbers as ever; nor were their ravages 
and annoyances checked until the drains were altered and rebuilt. 
It is in the better disposition of the drains of a corn-magazine, I am 
assured, that the great check upon the inroads of these 'varmint' is 
attained — by strong mason work and by such a series and arrange- 
ment of grates, as defy even the perseverance of a rat. Otherwise 
the hordes which prey upon the garbage in the common sewers, 
are certain to find their way into the granary along the drains and 
channels communicating with those sewers, and will increase 
rapidly despite the measures of the rat-catcher. 

The same man told me that he had been five or six times applied 
to by rat-catchers, and with liberal offers of beer, to allow them to 
try and capture the black rats in the granary. One of these traders 
declared he wanted them 'for a gent as vas curous in them there 
hinteresting warmint'; but from the representations of the other 
applicants, my informant was convinced that they were wanted 
for rat-hunts, the Dog Billy being backed for 100Z. to kill so many 
rats in so many minutes. 'You see, sir,' the corn merchant's man 
continued, 'ours is an old concern, and there's black rats in it, 
great big fellows; some of 'em must be old, for they're as white 
about the muzzle as is the Duke of Wellington, and they have the 
character of being very strong and very fierce. One of the catchers 
asked me if I knew what a stunning big black rat would weigh, as 
if I weighed rats! I always told them that I cared nothing about 
rat-hunts and that I knew our people wouldn't like to be bothered; 
and they was gentlemen that didn't admire sporting characters.' 

The rat-catchers are also rat-killers. They destroy the animals 
I sometimes by giving them what is called in the trade 'an alluring 
poison.' Every professional destroyer, or capturer, of rats will 
pretend that as to poison he has his own particular method — his 
secret — his discovery. But there is no doubt that arsenic is the basis 
of all their poisons. 

If the rats have to be taken alive, they are either trapped, so as 

190 Mayhew's London 

not to injure them for a rat-hunt (or the procedure in the pit would 
be accounted 'foul'), or if driven out of their holes by ferrets, they 
can only run into some cask, or other contrivance, where they can 
be secured for the 'sportman's' purposes. 

The grand consumption of rats, is in Bunhill-row, at a public- 
house kept by a pugilist. A rat-seller told me that from 200 to 500 
rats were killed there weekly, the weekly average being, however, 
only the former number; while at Easter and other holidays, it is 
not uncommon to see bills posted announcing the destruction of 
500 rats on the same day and in a given time, admittance Qd. Dogs 
are matched at these and similar places, as to which kills the 
greatest number of these animals in the shortest time. I am told 
that there are forty such places in London, but in some only the 
holiday times are celebrated in this small imitation of the beast 
combats of the ancients. 

To show the nature of the sport of rat- catching, I print the 
following bill, of which I procured two copies. The words and type 
are precisely the same in each, but one bill is printed on good and 
the other on very indifferent paper, as if for distribution among 
distinct classes. The concluding announcement, as to the precise 
moment at which killing will commence, reads supremely business- 


A Sporting Gentleman, Who is a Staunch 

Supporter of the destruction of these Vermin 
will GIVE A 




DOGS Under 13£Kw. Wt. 




On Tuesday, May 20, 1851. 

To be killed in a Large Wire Pit. A chalk 
Circle to be drawn in the centre for the Second.— 

Mayhew^s London 191 

Any man touching Dog or Rats, or acting in any 
way unfair his dog will be disqualified. 

To go to Scale at Half past 7 Killing to 
Commence At Half past 8 Precisely. 


The hawking of tea in London cannot be considered as immediately 
a street-trade, but it is in some respects blended with street callings 
and street traffic, so that a brief account is necessary. 

The branch of the tea trade closely connected with the street 
business is that in tea-leaves. The exhausted leaves of the tea-pot 
are purchased of servants or of poor women, and they are made 
into 'new' tea. One gentleman — to whose information, and to the 
care he took to test the accuracy of his every statement, I am 
bound to express my acknowledgments — told me that it would be 
fair to reckon that in London 1,500 lbs. of tea-leaves were weekly 
converted into new tea, or 78,000 lbs. in the year! One house is 
known to be very extensively and profitably concerned in this 
trade, or rather manufacture, and on my asking the gentleman who 
gave me the information if the house in question (he told me the 
name) was accounted respectable by their fellow- citizens, the 
answer was at once, 'Highly respectable.' 

The old tea-leaves, to be converted into new, are placed by the 
manufactures on hot plates, and are re-dried and re-dyed. To give 
the 'green' hue, a preparation of copper is used. For the 'black' 
no dye is necessary in the generality of cases. This tea-manufacture 
is sold to 'cheap' or 'slop' shopkeepers, both in town and country, 
and is almost always sold ready mixed. 


The wares sold by the vendors of the second-hand articles of metal 
manufacture, or (as they are called in the streets) the 'old metal' 
men may never be all found at one time upon one stall. 'Aye, 
sir,' said one old man whom I conversed with, 'and there's more 
things every now and then comes to the stalls, and there used to 

192 Mayhew^s London 

be still more when I were young, but I can't call them all to mind, 
for times is worse with me, and so my memory fails. But there used 
to be a good many bayonets, and iron tinder-boxes, and steels for 
striking lights; I can remember them.' 

Some of the sellers have strong heavy barrows, which they wheel 
from street to street. As this requires a considerable exertion of 
strength,such part of the trade is carried on by strong men, generally 
of the costermongering class. The weight to be propelled is about 
300 lbs. Of this class there are now a few, rarely more than half-a- 
dozen, who sell on commission in the way I have described concern- 
ing the swag-barrowmen. 

These are the 'old metal swags' of street classification, but their 
remuneration is less fixed than that of the other swag-barrowmen. 
It is sometimes a quarter, sometimes a third, and sometimes even 
a half of the amount taken. The men carrying on this traffic are 
the servants of the marine- store dealers, or vendors of old metal 
articles, who keep shops. If one of these people be 'lumbered up,' 
that is, if he find his stock increase too rapidly, he furnishes a bar- 
row, and sends a man into the streets with it, to sell Avhat the 
shopkeeper may find to be excessive. Sometimes if the tradesman 
can gain only the merest trifle more than he could gain from the 
people who buy for the melting-pot, he is satisfied. 

There is, or perhaps was, an opinion prevalent that the street 
'old metals' in this way of business got rid of stolen goods in such 
a manner as the readiest mode of sale, some of which were purposely 
rusted, and sold at almost any price, so that they brought but a 
profit to the 'fence,' whose payment to the thief was little more 
than the price of old metal at the foundry. I understand, however, 
that this course is not now pursued, nor is it likely that it ever was 
pursued to any extent. The street-seller is directly under the eye of 
the police, and when there is a search for stolen goods, it is not 
very likely that they would be paraded, however battered or rusted 
for the purpose, before men who possessed descriptions of all goods 
stolen. Until the establishment of the present system of police, this 
might have been an occasional practice. One street-seller had even 
heard, and he 'had it from the man what did it,' that a last-maker's 
shop was some years back broken into in the expectation that 
money would be met with, but none was found; and as the thieves 
could not bring away such heavy lumbering things as lasts, they 

Mayhew^s London 19 3 

cursed their ill-lulk, and brought away such tools as they could 
stow about their persons, and cover with their loose great coats. 
These were large knives, fixed to swivels, and resembling a small 
scythe, used by the artisan to rough hew the block of beech- 
wood; and a variety of excellent rasps and files (for they must 
be of the best), necessary for the completion of the last. These 
very tools were, in ten days after the robbery, sold from a street- 

The second-hand metal goods are sold from stalls as well as from 
barrows, and these stalls are often tended by women whose hus- 
bands may be in some other branch of street-commerce. One of 
these stalls I saw in the care of a stout elderly Jewess, who was 
fast asleep, nodding over her locks and keys. She was awakened 
by the passing policeman, lest her stock should be pilfered by the 
boys: 'Come, wake up, mother, and shake yourself,' he said, 'I 
shall catch a weazel asleep next.' 

Some of these barrows and stalls are heaped with the goods, 
and some are very scantily supplied, but the barrows are by far the 
best stocked. Many of them (especially the swag) look like collec- 
tions of the different stages of rust, from its incipient spots to its 
full possession of the entire metal. But amongst these seemingly 
useless things there is a gleam of brass or plated ware. On one 
barrow I saw an old brass door-plate, on which was engraven the 

name of a late learned judge, Baron B ; another had formerly 

announced the residence of a dignitary of the church, the Rev. 
Mr. . 

The second-hand metal sellers are to be seen in all the street- 
markets, especially on the Saturday nights; also in Poplar, Lime- 
house, and the Commercial-road, in Golden-lane, and in Old-street 
and Old-street-road, St. Luke's, in Hoxton and Shoreditch, in the 
Westminster Broadway, and the Whitechapel-road, in Rosemary- 
lane, and in the district where perhaps every street calling is 
pursued, but where some special street-trades seem peculiar to the 
genius of the place, in Petticoat-lane. A person unacquainted with 
the last-named locality may have formed an opinion that Petticoat- 
lane is merely a lane or street. But Petticoat- lane gives its name to 
a little district. It embraces Sandys-row, Artillery-passage, Artil- 
lery-lane, Frying-pan-alley, Catherine Wheel-alley, Tripe-yard, 
Fisher's-alley, Wentworth-strect, Harper's-alley, Marlborough- 

194 Mayhem's London 

court, Broad-place, Providence-place, Ellison-street, Swan-court' 
Little Love-court, Hutchinson-street, Little Middlesex-street, 
Hebrew-place, Boar's-head-yard, Black-horse-yard, Middlesex- 
street, Stoney-lane, Meeting-house-yard, Gravel-lane, White-street, 
Cutler-street, and Borer's-lane, until the wayfarer emerges into 
what appears the repose and spaciousness of Devonshire-square, 
Bishopsgate-street, up Borer's-lane, or into what in the contrast 
really looks like the aristocratic thoroughfare of the Aldgate High- 
street, down Middlesex-street; or into Houndsditch through the 
halls of the Old Clothes Exchange. 

All these narrow streets, lanes, rows, passages, alleys, yards, 
courts, and places, are the sites of the street-trade carried on in this 
quarter. The whole neighbourhood rings with street cries, many 
uttered in those strange east-end Jewish tones which do not sound 
like Erglish. Mixed with the incessant invitations to buy Hebrew 
dainties, or the 'sheepest pargains,' is occasionally heard the 
guttural utterance of the Erse tongue, for the 'native Irish,' as 
they are sometimes called, are in possession of some portion of the 
street-traffic of Petticoat-lane, the original Rag Fair. The savour 
of the place is moreover peculiar. There is fresh fish, and dried fish, 
and fish being fried in a style peculiar to the Jews; there is the 
fustiness of old clothes; there is the odour from the pans on which 
(still in the Jewish fashion) frizzle and hiss pieces of meat and 
onions; puddings are boiling and enveloped in steam; cakes with 
strange names are hot from the oven; tubs of big pickled cucumbers 
or of onions give a sort of acidity to the atmosphere; lemons and 
oranges abound; and altogether the scene is not only such as can 
only be seen in London, but only such as can be seen in this one 
part of the metropolis. 

When I treat of the street- Jews, I shall have information highly 
curious to communicate, and when I come to the fifth division of 
my present subject, I shall more particularly describe Petticoat- 
lane, as the head- quarters of the second-hand clothes business. 

I have here alluded to the character of this quarter as being one 
much resorted to formerly, and still largely used by the sellers of 
second-hand metal goods. Here I was informed that a strong-built 
man, known as Jack, or (appropriately enough) as Iron Jack, had, 
until his death six or seven years ago, one of the best-stocked 
barrows in London. This, in spite of remonstrances, and by a power- 

Mayhem's London 195 

ful exercise of his strength, the man lifted, as it were, on to the 
narrow foot-path, and every passer-by had his attention directed 
almost perforce to the contents of the barrow, for he must make 
a 'detour' to advance on his way. One of this man's favourite 
pitches was close to the lofty walls of what, before the change in 
their charter, was one of the East India Company's vast ware- 
houses. The contrast to any one who indulged a thought on the 
subject — and there is great food for thought in Petticoat-lane — 
was striking enough. Here towered the store-house of costly teas, 
and silks, and spices, and indigo; while at its foot was carried on 
the most minute and apparently worthless of all street-trades, 
rusty screws and nails, such as only few would care to pick up in 
the street, being objects of earnest bargaining! 


Of this trade there are two branches; the sale of instruments which 
are really second-hand, and the sale of those which are pretendedly 
so; in other words, an honest and a dishonest business. As in street 
estimation the whole is a second-hand calling, I shall so deal 
with it. 

At this season of the year, when fairs are frequent and the river 
steamers with their bands of music run oft and regularly, and out- 
door music may be played until late, the calling of the street- 
musician is 'at its best.' In the winter he is not unfrequently 
starving, especially if he be what is called 'a chance hand,' and have 
not the privilege of playing in public-houses when the weather 
renders it impossible to collect a street audience. Such persons are 
often compelled to part with their instruments, which they offer in 
the streets or the public-houses, for the pawn-brokers have been so 
often 'stuck' (taken in) with inferior instruments, that it is difficult 
to pledge even a really good violin. With some of these musical 
men it goes hard to part with their instruments, as they have their 
full share of the pride of art. Some, however, sell them recklessly 
and at almost any price, to obtain the means of prolonging a 
drunken carouse. 

From a man who is now a dealer in second-hand musical instru- 
ments, and is also a musician, I had the following account of his 

196 Maykew 9 s London 

start in the second-hand trade, and of his feelings when he first had 
to part with his fiddle. 

'I was a gentleman's footboy,' he said, 'when I was young, 
but I was always very fond of music, and so was my father before 
me. He was a tailor in a village in Suffolk and used to play the bass- 
fiddle at church. I hardly know how or when I learned to play, 
but I seemed to grow up to it. There was two neighbours used to 
call at my father's and practise, and one or other was always show- 
ing me something, and so I learned to play very well. Everybody 
said so. Before I was twelve, I've played nearly all night at a dance 
in a farm-house. I never played on anything but the violin. You 
must stick to one instrument, or you're not up to the mark on any 
if you keep changing. When I got a place as footboy it was in 
a gentleman's family in the country, and I never was so happy as 
when master and mistress was out dining, and I could play to the 
servants in the kitchen or the servant's hall. Sometimes they got 
up a bit of a dance to my violin. If there was a dance at Christmas 
at any of the tenants', they often got leave for me to go and play. 
It was very little money I got given, but too much drink. At last 
master said, he hired me to be his servant and not for a parish 
fiddler, so I must drop it. I left him not long after — he got so cross 
and snappish. In my next place — no, the next but one — I was on 
board wages, in London, a goodish bit, as the family were travelling, 
and I had time on my hands, and used to go and play at public- 
houses of a night, just for the amusement of the company at first 
but I soon got to know other musicians and made a little money. 
Yes, indeed, I could have saved money easily then, but I didn't; 
I got too fond of a public-house life for that, and was never easy 
at home.' 


Second-Hand Ovitars are vended by the street-sellers. The 
price varies from 7s. 6d. to 15s. Harps form no portion of the 
second-hand business of the streets. A drum is occasionally, and 
only occasionally, sold to a showman, but the chief second-hand 
traffic is in violins. Accordions, both new and old, used to sell 
readily in the streets, either from stalls or in hawking, 'but,' said 
a man who had formerly sold them, 'they have been regularly 
"duffed" out of the streets, so much cheap rubbish is made to sell. 

Mayhew's London 19 7 

There's next to nothing done in them now. If one's offered to 
a man that's no judge of it, he'll be sure you want to cheat him, 
and perhaps abuse you; if he be a judge, of course it's no go, unless 
with a really good article.' 

What I have called the 'dishonest trade' is known among the 
street-folk as 'music-duffing.' Among the swag-shopkeepers, at 
one place in Houndsditch more especially, are dealers in 'duffing 
fiddles.' These are German-made instruments, and are sold to the 
street-folk at 2s. or 3s. each, bow and all. When purchased by the 
music-duffers, they are discoloured so as to be made to look old. 
A music-duffer, assuming the way of a man half-drunk, will enter 
a public-house or accost any party in the street, saying: 'Here, 
I must have money, for I won't go home 'til morning, 'til morning, 
'til morning, I won't go home 'til morning, 'til daylight does appear. 
And so I may as well sell my old fiddle mj^self as take it to a rogue 
of a broker. Try it anybody, it's a fine old tone, equal to any 
Cremonar. It cost me two guineas and another fiddle, and a good 
'un too, in exchange, but I may as well be my own broker, for I 
must have money any how, and I'll sell it for 10s.' 

Possibly a bargain is struck for 5s.; for the duffing violin is per- 
haps purposely damaged in some slight way, so as to appear easily 
reparable, and any deficiency in tone may be attributed to that 
defect, which was of course occasioned by the drunkenness of the 
possessor. Or possibly the tone of the instrument may not be bad, 
but it may be made of such unsound materials, and in such a slop- 
way, though looking well to a little-practised eye, that it will soon 
fall to pieces. One man told me that he had often done the music- 
duffing, and had sold trash violins for 10s., 15s., and even 20s., 
'according,' he said, 'to the thickness of the buyer's head,' but 
that was ten or twelve years ago. 



The sale of second-hand pistols, for to that weapon the street- 
sellers' or hawkers' trade in arms seems confined, is larger than 
might be cursorily imagined. 

There must be something seductive about the possession of a 
pistol, for I am assured by persons familiar with the trade, that 

198 Mayliew^s London 

they have sold them to men who were ignorant, when first invited 
to purchase, how the weapon was loaded or discharged, and seemed 
half afraid to handle it. Perhaps the possession imparts a sense of 

The pistols which are sometimes seen on the street-stalls are 
almost always old, rusted, or battered, and are useless to any one 
except to those who can repair and clean them for sale. 

There are three men now selling new or second-hand pistols, 
I am told, who have been gunmakers. 

This trade is carried on almost entirely by hawking to public- 
houses. I heard of no one who depended solely upon it, 'but this 
is the way,' one intelligent man stated to me, 'if I am buying 
second-hand things at a broker's, or in Petticoat-lane, or anywhere, 
and there's a pistol that seems cheap, I'll buy it as readily as anj'- 
thing I know, and I'll soon sell it a public-house, or I'll get it 
raffled for. Second-hand pistols sell better than new by such as me. 
If I was to offer a new one I should be told it was some Brum- 
magem slop rubbish. If there's a little silver-plate let into the wood 
of the pistol, and a crest or initials engraved on it — I've got it done 
sometimes — there's a better chance of sale, for people think it's 
been made for somebody of consequence that wouldn't be fobbed 
off with an inferior thing. I don't think I've often sold pistols to 
working-men, but I've known them join in raffles for them, and 
the winner has often wanted to sell it back to me, and has sold 
it to somebody. It's tradesmen that buy, or gentlefolks, if you can 
get at them. A pistol's a sort of a plaything with them.' 



Several of the things known in the street-trade as 'curiosities' 
can hardly be styled second-hand with any propriety, but they are 
so styled in the streets, and are usually vended by street-merchants 
who trade in second-hand wares. 

Curiosities are displayed, I cannot say temptingly (except 
perhaps to a sanguine antiquarian), for there is a great dinginess 
in the display, on stalls. One man whom I met wheeling his barrow 
in Hi^h-street, Camden-town, gave me an account of his trade. 
He was dirtily rather than meanly clad, and had a very self-satis- 

Mayhem's London 199 

fied expression of face. The principal things on his barrow were 
coins, shells, and old buckles, with a pair of the very high and 
wooden-heeled shoes, worn in the earlier part of the last century. 
The coins were all of copper, and certainly did not lack variety. 
Among them were tokens, but none very old. There was the head 
of 'Charles Marquis CornwalhV looking fierce in a cocked hat, 
while on the reverse was Fame with her trumpet and a wreath, and 
banners at her feet, with the superscription: 'His fame resounds 
from east to west.' There was a head of Wellington with the date 
1811, and the legend of 'Vincit amor patriae.' Also 'The R. Hon. 
W. Pitt, Lord Warden Cinque Ports,' looking courtly in a bag 
wig, with his hair brushed from his broAv into what the curiosity- 
seller called a 'topping.' This was announced as a 'Cinque Ports 
token pa} r able at Dover,' and was dated 1794. 'Wellingtons,' said 
the man, 'is cheap; that one's only a half-penny, but here's one 
here, sir, as you seem to understand coins, as I hope to get 2d. for, 
and will take no less. It's "J. Lackington, 1794," you see, and 
on the back there's a Fame, and round her is written — and it's a 
good speciment of a coin — "Halfpenny of Lackington, Allen & Co., 
cheapest booksellers in the world." That's scarcer and more vally- 
baller than Wellingtons or Nelsons either.' Of the current coin of 
the realm, I saw none older than Charles II., and but one of his 
reign, and little legible. Indeed the reverse had been ground quite 
smooth, and some one had engraved upon it 'Charles Dryland 
Tunbridg.' A small 'e' over the 'g' of Tunbridg perfected the 
orthography. This, the street-seller said, was a 'love-token' as 
well as an old coin, and 'them love-tokens was getting scarce.' 
Of foreign and colonial coins there were perhaps GO. The oldest 
I saw was one of Louis XV. of France and Navarre, 1774. There 
was one also of the 'Republique Fran^aise' when Napoleon was 
First Consul. The colonial coins were more numerous than the 
foreign. There was the One Penny token' of Lower Canada; the 
'one quarter anna' of the East India Company; the 'half stiver of 
the colonies of Essequibo and Dcmarara;' the 'halfpenny token 
of the province of Nova Scotia,' &c. &c. There were also counter- 
feit halfcrowns and bank tokens worn from their simulated silver 
to rank copper. The principle on which this man 'priced' his coins, 
as he called it, was simple enough. What was the size of a halfpenny 
he asked a penny for; the size of a penny coin was 2d. 'It's a difficult 

2 00 Mayhew's London 

trade is mine, sir,' he said, 'to carry on properly, for you may be 
so easily taken in, if you're not a judge of coins and other curios- 

The shells of this man's stock in trade he called 'conks' and 
'king conks.' He had no 'clamps' then, he told me, but they sold 
pretty well; he described them as 'two shells together, one fitting 
inside the other.' He also had sold what he called 'African cowries,' 
which were as 'big as a pint pot,' and the smaller cowries, which 
were 'money in India, for his father was a soldier and had been 
there and saw it.' The shells are sold from Id. to 2s. Qd. 

The old buckles were such as used to be worn on shoes, but the 
plate was all worn off, and 'such like curiosities,' the man told 
me, 'got scarcer and scarcer.' 


In the sale of second-hand telescopes only one man is now engaged 
in any extensive way, except on mere chance occasions. Fourteen 
or fifteen years ago, I was informed, there was a considerable 
street sale in small telescopes at Is. each. They were made at 
Birmingham, my informant believed, but were sold as second- 
hand goods in London. Of this trade there are now no remains. 

The principal seller of second-hand telescopes takes a stand on 
Tower Hill or by the Coal Exchange, and his customers, as he 
sells excellent 'glasses,' are mostly sea-faring men. He has sold, 
and still sells, telescopes from 21. 10s. to 51. each, the purchasers 
generally 'trjdng' them, with strict examination, from Tower Hill, 
or on the Custom-House Quay. There are, in addition to this street- 
seller, six and sometimes eight others, who offer telescopes to 
persons about the docks or wharfs, who may be going some voyage. 
These are as often new as second-hand, but the second-hand articles 
are preferred. This, however, is a Jewish trade which will be treated 
under another head. 

An old opera-glass, or the smaller articles best known as 'pocket- 
glasses,' are occasionally hawked to public-houses and offered in 
the streets, but so little is done in them that I can obtain no 
statistics. A spectacle seller told me that he had once tried to sell 
two second-hand opera-glasses at 2s. 6d. each, in the street, and 

Mayhem's London 201 

then in the public-houses, but was laughed at by the people who 
were usually his customers. 'Opera-glasses!' they said, 'why, what 
did they want with opera-glasses? wait until they had opera-boxes.' 
He sold the glasses at last to a shop-keeper. 


The other second-hand articles sold in the streets I will give under 
one head, specifying the different characteristics of the trade, when 
any striking peculiarities exist. To give a detail of the whole trade, 
or rather of the several kinds of articles in the whole trade, is 
impossible. I shall therefore select only such as are sold the more 
extensively, or present any novel or curious features of second- 
hand street-commerce. 

Writing-desks, tea-caddies, dressing-cases, and knife-boxes used 
to be a ready sale, I was informed, when 'good second-hand'; but 
they are 'got up' now so cheaply by the poor fancy cabinet-makers 
who work for the 'slaughterers,' or furniture warehouses, and for 
some of the general-dealing swag-shops, that the sale of anything 
second-hand is greatly diminished. In fact I was told that as 
regards second-hand writing-desks and dressing cases, it might be 
said there was 'no trade at all now.' A few, however, are still to be 
seen at miscellaneous stalls, and are occasionally, but very rarely, 
offered at a public-house 'used' by artisans who may be considered 
'judges' of work. The tea-caddies are the things which are in best 
demand. 'Working people buy them,' I was informed, and 'working 
people's wives. When women are the customers they look closely 
at the lock and key, as they keep "my uncle's cards" there' (pawn- 
broker's duplicates). 

One man had lately sold second-hand tea-caddies at 9c?., Is., and 
Is. 3d. each, and cleared 2s. in a day when he had stock and devoted 
his time to this sale. He could not persevere in it if he wished, he 
told me, as he might lose a day in looking out for the caddies; he 
might go to fifty brokers and not find one caddy cheap enough for 
his purpose. 

Brushes are sold second-hand in considerable quantities in the 
streets, and arc usually vended at stalls. Shoe-brushes are in the 
best demand, and are generally sold, when in good condition, at 

202 Mayheufs London 

Is. the set, the cost to the street-seller being 8d. They are bought, 
I was told, by the people who clean their own shoes, or have to 
clean other people's. Clothes' brushes are not sold to any extent, 
as the 'hard brush' of the shoe set is used by working people for 
a clothes' brush. Of late, I am told, second-hand brushes have sold 
more freely than ever. They were hardly to be had just when 
wanted, in a sufficient quantity, for the demand by persons going 
to Epsom, and Ascot races, who carry a brush of little value with 
them, to brush the dust gathered on the road from their coats. The 
costergirls buy very hard brushes, indeed mere stumps, with which 
they brush radishes; these brushes are vended at the street-stalls 
at Id. each. 

In Stuffed Birds for the embellishment of the walls of a room, 
there is still a small second-hand street sale, but none now in 
images or chimney-piece ornaments. 'Why,' said one dealer, T can 
now buy new figures for 9d., such as not many years ago cost 7s., so 
what chance of a second-hand sale is there?' The stuffed birds 
which sell the best are starlings. They are all sold as second-hand, 
but are often 'made up' for street-traffic; an old bird or two, 
I was told, in a new case, or a new bird in an old case. Last Saturday 
evening one man told me he had sold two 'long cases' of starlings 
and small birds for 2s. 6d. each. There are no stuffed parrots or 
foreign birds in this sale, and no pheasants or other game, except 
sometimes wretched old things which are sold because they happen 
to be in a case. 

The street-trade in second-hand Lasts is confined principally to 
Petticoat and Rosemary lanes, where they are bought by the 
'garret-masters' in the shoemaking trade who supply the large 
wholesale warehouses; that is to say, by small masters who find 
their own materials and sell the boots and shoes by the dozen pairs. 
The lasts are bought also by mechanics, street-sellers, and other 
poor persons who cobble their own shoes. A shoemaker told me 
that he occasionally bought a last at a street stall, or rather from 
street hampers in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes, and it seemed to 
him that second-hand stores of street lasts got neither bigger nor 
smaller: 'I suppose it's this way,' he reasoned; 'the garret-master 
buys lasts to do the slop-snobbing cheap, mostly women's lasts, 
and he dies or is done up and goes to the "great house," and his 
lasts find their way back to the streets. You notice, sir, the first 

Mayhew's London 203 

time you're in Rosemary-lane, how little a great many of the lasts 
have been used, and that shows what a terrible necessity there was 
to part with them. In some there's hardly any peg-marks at all.' 
The lasts are sold from Id. to 3d. each, or twice that amount in 
pairs, 'rights and lefts,' according to the size and the condition. 
There are about 20 street last-sellers in the second-hand trade of 
London — 'at least 20,' one man said, after he seemed to have been 
making a mental calculation on the subject. 

Second-hand harness is sold largely, and when good is sold very 
readily. There is, I am told, far less slop-work in harness-making 
than in shoe-making or in the other trades, such as tailoring, and 
'many a lady's pony harness,' it was said to me by a second-hand 
dealer, 'goes next to a tradesman, and next to a costermonger's 
donkey, and if it's been good leather to begin with — as it will if 
it was made for a lady — why the traces'll stand slouting, and 
patching, and piecing, and mending for a long time, and they'll 
do to cobble old boots last of all, for old leather'll wear just in 
treading, when it might snap at a pull. Give me a good quality to 
begin with, sir, and it's serviceable to the end.' In my inquiries 
among the costermongers I ascertained that if one of that body 
started his donkey, or rose from that to his pony, he never bought 
new harness, unless it were a new collar if he had a regard for the 
comfort of his beast, but bought old harness, and 'did it up' him- 
self, often using iron rivets, or clenched nails, to reunite the broken 
parts, where, of course, a harness-maker would apply a patch. Nor 
is it the costermongers alone who buy all their harness second- 
hand. The sweep, whose stock of soot is large enough to require the 
help of an ass and a cart in its transport; the collector of bones and 
offal from the butchers' slaughter-houses or shops; and the many 
who may be considered as co-traders with the costermonger class — 
the greengrocer, the street coal-seller by retail, the salt-sellers, the 
gravel and sand dealer (a few have small carts) — all, indeed, of 
that class of traders, buy their harness second-hand, and generally 
in the streets. 


PERHArs it may add to the completeness of the information here 
given concerning the trading in old refuse articles, and especially 

204 Mayhew's London 

those of a miscellaneous character, the manner in which, and 
the parties by whom the business is carried on, if I conclude this 
branch of the subject by an account of the shops of the second-hand 
dealers. The distance between the class of these shop-keepers and 
of the stall and barrow-keepers I have described is not great. It 
may be said to be merely from the street to within doors. Marine- 
store dealers have often in their start in life been street-sellers, not 
unfrequently costermongers, and street-sellers they again become 
if their ventures be unsuccessful. Some of them, however, make a 
good deal of money in what may be best understood as a 'hugger- 
mugger way.' 

On this subject I cannot do better than quote Mr. Dickens, one 
of the most minute and truthful of observers: — 

'The reader must often have perceived in some by-street, in a 
poor neighbourhood, a small dirty shop, exposing for sale the most 
extraordinary and confused jumble of old, worn-out, wretched 
articles, that can well be imagined. Our wonder at their ever 
having been bought, is only to be equalled by our astonishment at 
the idea of their ever being sold again. On a board, at the side of 
the door, are placed about twenty books — all odd volumes; and 
as many wine-glasses — all different patterns; several locks, an old 
earthenware pan, full of rusty keys; two or three gaudy chimney 
ornaments — cracked, of course; the remains of a lustre, without 
any drops; a round frame like a capital O, which has once held 
a mirror; a flute, complete with the exception of the middle joint; 
a pair of curling-irons; and a tinder-box. In front of the shop- 
window, are ranged some half-dozen high-backed chairs, with 
spinal complaints and wasted legs; a corner cupboard; two or 
three very dark mahogany tables with flaps like mathematical 
problems; some pickle- bottles, some surgeons' ditto, with gilt 
labels and without stoppers; an unframed portrait of some lady 
who flourished about the beginning of the thirteenth century, by 
an artist who never flourished at all; an incalculable host of mis- 
cellanies of every description, including armour and cabinets, rags 
and bones, fenders and street-door knockers, fire-irons, wearing- 
apparel and bedding, a hall-lamp, and a room-door. Imagine, in 
addition to this incongruous mass, a black doll in a white frock, 
with two faces — one looking up the street, and the other looking 
down, swinging over the door; a board with the squeezed-up 

Mayhew^s London 205 

inscription "Dealer in marine stores," in lanky white letters, 
whose height is strangely out of proportion to their width; and 
you have before you precisely the kind of shop to which we wish 
to direct your attention. 

'Although the same heterogeneous mixture of things will be 
found at all these places, it is curious to observe how truly and 
accurately some of the minor articles are exposed for sale — articles 
of wearing-apparel, for instance — mark the character of the neigh- 
bourhood. Take Drury-lane and Covent-garden for example. 

'This is essentially a theatrical neighbourhood. There is not a 
potboy in the vicinity who is not, to a greater or less extent, a 
dramatic character. The errand-boys and chandlers'-shop-keepers' 
sons, are all stage-struck: they "get up" plays in back kitchens 
hired for the purpose, and will stand before a shop-window for 
hours, contemplating a great staring portrait of Mr. somebody or 
other, of the Royal Coburg Theatre, "as he appeared in the charac- 
ter of Tongo the Denounced." The consequence is, that there is 
not a marine-store shop in the neighbourhood, which does not 
exhibit for sale some faded articles of dramatic finery, such as 
three or four pairs of soiled buff boots with turn-over red tops, 
heretofore worn by a "fourth robber," or "fifth mob;" a pair of 
rusty broad-swords, a few gauntlets, and certain resplendent 
ornaments, which, if they were yellow instead of white, might be 
taken for insurance plates of the Sun Fire-office. There are several 
of these shops in the narrow streets and dirty courts, of which 
there are so many near the national theatres, and they all have 
tempting goods of this description, with the addition, perhaps, 
of a lady's pink dress covered with spangles; white wreaths, stage 
shoes, and a tiara like a tin lamp reflector. They have been pur- 
chased of some wretched supernumeraries, or sixth-rate actors, 
and are now offered for the benefit of the rising generation, who, 
on condition of making certain weekly payments, amounting in 
the whole to about ten times their value, may avail themselves 
of such desirable bargains. 

'Let us take a very different quarter, and apply it to the same 
test. Look at a marine-store dealer's, in that reservoir of dirt, 
drunkenness, and drabs: thieves, oysters, baked potatoes, and 
pickled salmon — Ratcliff-highway. Here, the wearing-apparel is 
all nautical. Rough blue jackets, with mother-of-pearl buttons, 

206 Mayhew^s London 

oil-skin hats, coarse checked shirts, and large canvas trousers that 
look as if they were made for a pair of bodies instead of a pair of 
legs, are the staple commodities. Then, there are large bunches of 
cotton pocket-handkerchiefs, in colour and pattern unlike any 
one ever saw before, with the exception of those on the backs of 
the three young ladies without bonnets who passed just now. The 
furniture is much the same as elsewhere, with the addition of one 
or two models of ships, and some old prints of naval engagements 
in still older frames. In the window are a few compasses, a small 
tray containing silver watches in clumsy thick cases; and tobacco- 
boxes, the lid of each ornamented with a ship, or an anchor, or some 
such trophy. A sailor generally pawns or sells all he has before he 
has been long ashore, and if he does not, some favoured companion 
kindly saves him the trouble. In either case, it is an even chance 
that he afterwards unconsciously repurchases the same things at 
a higher price than he gave for them at first. 

'Again: pay a visit, with a similar object, to a part of London, 
as unlike both of these as they are to each other. Cross over to the 
Surrey side, and look at such shops of this description as are to be 
found near the King's Bench prison, and in "the Rules." How 
different, and how strikingly illustrative of the decay of some of 
the unfortunate residents in this part of the metropolis! Imprison- 
ment and neglect have done their work. There is contamination in 
the profligate denizens of a debtors' prison; old friends have fallen 
off; the recollection of former prosperity has passed away; and 
with it all thoughts for the past, all care for the future. First, 
watches and rings, then clocks, coats, and all the more expensive 
articles of dress, have found their way to the pawnbroker's. That 
miserable resource has failed at last, and the sale of some trifling 
article at one of these shops, has been the only mode left of raising 
a shilling or two, to meet the urgent demands of the moment. 
Dressing-cases and writing-desks, too old to pawn but too good to 
keep; guns, fishing-rods, musical instruments, all in the same 
condition; have first been sold, and the sacrifice has been but 
slightly felt. But hunger must be allayed, and what has already 
become a habit, is easily resorted to, when an emergency arises. 
Light articles of clothing, first of the ruined man, then of his wife, 
at last of their children, even of the youngest, have been parted 
with, piecemeal. There they are, thrown carelessly together until 

Mayhew^s London 207 

a purchaser presents himself, old, patched, and repaired, it is true; 
but the make and materials tell of better days: and the older they 
are, the greater the misery and destitution of those whom they 
once adorned.' 



The multifariousness of the articles of this trade is limited only by 
what the uncertainty of the climate, the caprices of fashion, or the 
established styles of apparel in the kingdom, have caused to be 
worn, flung aside, and reworn as a revival of an obsolete style. 
It is to be remarked, however, that of the old-fashioned styles none 
that are costly have been revived. Laced coats, and embroidered 
and lappeted waistcoats, have long disappeared from second-hand 
traffic — the last stage of fashions — and indeed from all places but 
court or fancy balls and the theatre. 

The great mart for second-hand apparel was, in the last century, 
in Monmouth-street; now, by one of those arbitrary, and almost 
always inappropriate, changes in the nomenclature of streets, 
termed Dudley-street, Seven Dials. 'Monmouth-street finery' was 
a common term to express tawdriness and pretence. Now Mon- 
mouth-street, for its new name is hardly legitimated, has no 
finery. Its second-hand wares are almost wholly confined to old 
boots and shoes, which are vamped up with a good deal of trickery; 
so much so that a shoemaker, himself in the poorer practice of the 
'gentle craft,' told me that blacking and brown paper were the 
materials of Monmouth-street cobbling. Almost every master in 
Monmouth-street now is, I am told, an Irishman; and the great 
majority of the workmen are Irishmen also. There were a few Jews 
and a few cockneys in this well-known street a year or two back, 
but now this branch of the second-hand trade is really in the hands 
of what may be called a clan. A little business is carried on in 
second-hand apparel, as well as boots and shoes, but it is insignifi- 

The head-quarters of this second-hand trade are now in Petticoat 
and Rosemary lanes, especially in Petticoat-lane, and the traffic 
there carried on may be called enormous. As in other departments 
of commerce, both in our own capital, in many of our older cities, 

208 Mayhew's London 

and in the cities of the Continent, the locality appropriated to this 
traffic is one of narrow streets, dark alleys, and most oppressive 
crowding. The traders seem to judge of a Rag-fair garment, whether 
a cotton frock or a ducal coachman's great-coat, by the touch, 
more reliably than by sight; inspect, so to speak, with their 
fingers more than their eyes. But the business in Petticoat and 
Rosemary lanes is mostly of a retail character. The wholesale mart 
— for the trade in old clothes has both a wholesale and retail form — 
is in a place of especial curiosity, and one of which, as being little 
known, I shall first speak. 


The trade in second-hand apparel is one of the most ancient of 
callings, and is known in almost every country, but anything like 
the Old Clothes Exchange of the Jewish quarter of London, in 
the extent and order of its business, is unequalled in the world. 
There is indeed no other such place, and it is rather remarkable 
that a business occupying so many persons, and requiring such 
facilities for examination and arrangement, should not until the 
year 1843 have had its regulated proceedings. The Old Clothes 
Exchange is the latest of the central marts, established in the 

Smithfield, or the Cattle Exchange, is the oldest of all the mar- 
kets; it is mentioned as a place for the sale of horses in the time 
of Henry II. Billingsgate, or the Fish Exchange, is of ancient, but 
uncertain era. Co vent Garden — the largest Fruit, Vegetable, and 
Flower Exchange — first became established as the centre of such 
commerce in the reign of Charles II.; the establishment of the 
Borough and Spitalfields markets, as other marts for the sale of 
fruits, vegetables, and flowers, being nearly as ancient. The Royal 
Exchange dates from the days of Queen Elizabeth, and the Bank 
of England and the Stock- Exchange from those of William III., 
while the present premises for the Corn and Coal Exchanges are 

Were it possible to obtain the statistics of the last quarter of a 
century, it would, perhaps, be found that in none of the important 
interests I have mentioned has there been a greater increase of 
business than in the trade in old clothes. Whether this purports a 

Mayhew's London 209 

high degree of national prosperity or not, it is not my business at 
present to inquire, and be it as it may, it is certain that, until the 
last few years, the trade in old clothes used to be carried on entirely 
in the open air, and this in the localities which I have pointed out 
in my account of the trade in old metal (p. 193) as comprising the 
Petticoat-lane district. The old clothes trade was also pursued in 
Rosemary-lane, but then — and so indeed it is now — this was but a 
branch of the more centralized commerce of Petticoat-lane. The 
head- quarters of the traffic at that time were confined to a space 
not more than ten square yards, adjoining Cutler-street. The 
chief traffic elsewhere was originally in Cutler-street, White-street, 
Carter-street, and in Harrow-alley — the districts of the celebrated 
Rag -fair. 

The confusion and clamour before the institution of the present 
arrangements were extreme. Great as was the extent of the business 
transacted, people wondered how it could be accomplished, for 
it always appeared to a stranger, that there could be no order what- 
ever in all the disorder. The wrangling was incessant, nor were the 
trade-contests always confined to wrangling alone. The passions 
of the Irish often drove them to resort to cuffs, kicks, and blows, 
which the Jews, although with a better command over their 
tempers, were not slack in returning. The East India Company, 
some of whose warehouses adjoined the market, frequently com- 
plained to the city authorities of the nuisance. Complaints from 
other quarters were also frequent, and sometimes as many as 200 
constables were necessary to restore or enforce order. The nuisance, 
however, like many a public nuisance, was left to remedy itself, or 
rather it was left to be remedied by individual enterprise. Mr. L. 
Isaac, the present proprietor, purchased the houses which then 
filled up the back of Phil's-buildings, and formed the present Old 
Clothes Exchange. This was eight years ago; now there are no 
more policemen in the locality than in other equally populous parts. 

Of Old Clothes Exchanges there are now two, both adjacent, 
the first one opened by Mr. Isaac being the most important. This 
is 100 feet by 70, and is the mart to which the collectors of the cast- 
off apparel of the metropolis bring their goods for sale. The goods 
are sold wholesale and retail, for an old clothes merchant will buy 
either a single hat, or an entire wardrobe, or a sackful of shoes, — 
I need not say pairs, for odd shoes are not rejected. In one depart- 

210 Mayhem's London 

ment of 'Isaac's Exchange,' however, the goods are not sold to 
parties who buy for their own wearing, but to the old clothes 
merchant, who buys to sell again. In this portion of the mart are 
90 stalls, averaging about six square feet each. 

In another department, which communicates with the first, and 
is two-thirds of the size, are assembled such traders as buy the old 
garments to dispose of them, either after a process of cleaning, 
or when they have been repaired and renovated. These buyers 
are generally shopkeepers, residing in the old clothes districts of 
Marylebone-lane, Holywell-street, Monmouth-street, Union-street 
(Borough), Saffron-hill (Field-lane), Drury-lane, Shoreditch, the 
Waterloo-road, and other places of which I shall have to speak 

The difference between the first and second class of buyers above 
mentioned, is really that of the merchant and the retail shopkeeper. 
The one buys literally anything presented to him which is vendible, 
and in any quantity, for the supply of the wholesale dealers from 
distant parts, or for exportation, or for the general trade of London. 
The other purchases what suits his individual trade, and is likely 
to suit regular or promiscuous customers. 

In another part of the same market is carried on the retail old 
clothes trade to any one — shop-keeper, artisan, clerk, costermonger, 
or gentlemen. This indeed, is partially the case in the other parts. 
'Yesh, inteet,' said a Hebrew trader, whom I conversed with on 
the subject, 'I shall be clad to shell you one coat, sir. Dish von is 
shust your shize; it is verra sheep, and vosh made by one tip-top 
shnip.' Indeed, the keenness and anxiety to trade — whenever trade 
seems possible — causes many of the frequenters of these marts to 
infringe the arrangements as to the manner of the traffic, though 
the proprietors endeavour to cause the regulations to be strictly 
adhered to. 

The second Exchange, which is a few yards apart from the other 
is known as Simmons and Levy's Clothes Exchange, and is unem- 
ployed, for its more especial business purposes, except in the 
mornings. The commerce is then wholesale, for here are sold collec- 
tions of unredeemed pledges in wearing apparel, consigned there 
by the pawnbrokers, or the buyers at the auctions of unredeemed 
goods; as well as draughts from the stocks of the wardrobe dealers; 
a quantity of military or naval stores, and such like articles. In the 

Mayhew's London 211 

afternoon the stalls are occupied by retail dealers. The ground is 
about as large as the first-mentioned exchange, but is longer and 


A considerable quantity of the old clothes disposed of at the 
Exchange are bought by merchants from Ireland. They are then 
packed in bales by porters, regularly employed for the purpose, 
and who literally build them up square and compact. These bales 
are each worth from 501. to 300£., though seldom 3001., and it is 
curious to reflect from how many classes the pile of old garments 
has been collected — how many privations have been endured 
before some of these habiliments found their way into the possession 
of the old clothes-man — what besotted debauchery put others in 
his possession — with what cool calculation others were disposed of 
— how many were procured for money, and how many by the 
tempting offers of flowers, glass, crockery, spars, table-covers, lace, 
or millinery — what was the clothing which could first be spared 
when rent was to be defrayed or bread to be bought, and what was 
treasured until the last — in what scenes of gaiety or gravity, in the 
opera-house or the senate, had the perhaps departed wearers of 
some of that heap of old clothes figured — through how many 
possessors, and again through what new scenes of middle-class or 
artisan comfort had these dresses passed, or through what accidents 
of 'genteel' privation and destitution — and lastly through what 
necessities of squalid wretchedness and low debauchery. 

Every kind of old attire, from the highest to the very lowest, I was 
emphatically told, was sent to Ireland. 

Some of the bales are composed of garments originally made for 
the labouring classes. These are made up of every description of 
colour and material — cloth, corduroy, woollen cords, fustian, 
moleskin, flannel, velveteen, plaids, and the several varieties of 
those substances. In them are to be seen coats, great-coats, jackets, 
trousers, and breeches, but no other habiliments, such as boots, 
shirts, or stockings. I was told by a gentleman, who between 40 and 
50 years ago was familiar with the liberty and poorer parts of 
Dublin, that the most coveted and the most saleable of all second- 

212 Mayhew's London 

hand apparel was that of leather breeches, worn commonly in 
some of the country parts of England half a century back, and sent 
in considerable quantities at that time from London to Ireland. 
These nether habiliments were coveted because, as the Dublin 
sellers would say, they 'would wear for ever, and look illigant after 
that.' Buck-skin breeches are now never worn except by grooms 
in their liveries, and gentlemen when hunting, so that the trade in 
them in the Old Clothes Exchange, and their exportation to Ire- 
land, are at an end. The next most saleable thing — I may mention, 
incidentally — vended cheap and second-hand in Dublin, to the 
poor Irishmen of the period I speak of, was a wig! And happy was 
the man who could wear two, one over the other. 

Some of the Irish buyers who are regular frequenters of the 
London Old Clothes Exchange, take a small apartment, often a 
garret or a cellar, in Petticoat-lane or its vicinity, and to this room 
they convey their purchases until a sufficient stock has been collect- 
ed. Among these old clothes the Irish possessors cook, or at any 
rate eat, their meals, and upon them they sleep. I did not hear that 
such dealers were more than ordinarily unhealthy; though it may, 
perhaps, be assumed that such habits are fatal to health. What may 
be the average duration of life among old clothes sellers who live 
in the midst of their wares, I do not know, and believe that no 
facts have been collected on the subject; but I certainly saw among 
them some very old men. 

Other wholesale buyers from Ireland occupy decent lodgings in 
the neighbourhood — decent considering the locality. In Phil's- 
buildings, a kind of wide alley which forms one of the approaches 
to the Exchange, are eight respectable apartments, almost always 
let to the Irish old clothes merchants. 

Tradesmen of the same class come also from the large towns of 
England and Scotland to buy for their customers some of the left- 
off clothes of London. 

Nor is this the extent of the wholesale trade. Bales of old clothes 
are exported to Belgium and Holland, but principally to Holland. 
Of the quantity of goods thus exported to the Continent not above 
one-half, perhaps, can be called old clothes, while among these the 
old livery suits are in the best demand. The other goods of this 
foreign trade are old serges, duffles, carpeting, drugget, and heavy 
woollen goods generally, of all the descriptions which I have before 

Mayhevfs London 213 

enumerated as parcel of the second-hand trade of the streets. 
Old merion curtains, and any second-hand decorations of fringes, 
woollen lace, &c, are in demand for Holland. 

Twelve bales, averaging somewhere about 100?. each in value, 
but not fully 100Z., are sent direct every week of the year from the 
Old Clothes Exchange to distant places, and this is not the whole 
of the traffic, apart from what is done retail. I am informed on the 
best authority, that the average trade may be stated at 1.500/. a 
week all the year round. When I come to the conclusion of the 
subject, however, I shall be able to present statistics of the amount 
turned over in the respective branches of the old clothes trade, 
as well as of the number of the traffickers, only one-fourth of whom 
are now Jews. 

The conversation which goes on in the Old Clothes Exchange 
during business hours, apart from the 'larking' of the young sweet- 
stuff and orange or cake-sellers, is all concerning business, but 
there is, even while business is being transacted, a frequent inter- 
change of jokes, and even of practical jokes. The business talk — 
I was told by an old clothes collector, and I heard similar remarks — 
is often to the following effect: — 

'How much is this here?' says the man who comes to buy. 
'One pound five,' replies the Jew seller. T won't give you above 
half the money.' 'Half de money,' cries the salesman, 'I can't 
take dat. Vat above the 16s. dat you offer now vill you give for it? 
Vill you give me eighteen? Veil, come, give ush your money, I've 
got ma rent to pay.' But the man says, 'I only bid you 12s. 0>d., 
and I shan't give no more.' And then, if the seller finds he can get 
him to 'spring' or advance no further, he says, 'I shupposh I 
musht take your money even if I loosh by it. You'll be a better 
cushtomer anoder time. [This is still a common 'deal', I am 
assured by one who began the business at 13 years old, and is now 
upwards of 60 years of age. The Petticoat-laner will always ask at 
least twice as much as he means to take.] 


IMMEDIATELY connected with the trade of the central mart for old 
clothes are the adjoining streets of Petticoat-lane, and those of the 

214 Mayheiv's London 

not very distant Rosemary-lane. In these localities is a second-hand 
garment-seller at almost every step, but the whole stock of these 
traders, decent, frowsy, half-rotten, or smart and good habiliments, 
has first passed through the channel of the Exchange. The men 
who sell these goods have all bought them at the Exchange — the 
exceptions being insignificant — so that this street-sale is but an 
extension of the trade of the central mart, with the addition that 
the wares have been made ready for use. 

A cursory observation might lead an inexperienced person to 
the conclusion, that these old clothes traders who are standing by 
bundles of gowns, or lines of coats, hanging from their door-posts, 
or in the place from which the window has been removed, or at 
the sides of their houses, or piled in the street before them, are 
drowsy people, for they seem to sit among their property, lost in 
thought, or caring only for the fumes of a pipe. But let any one 
indicate, even by an approving glance, the likelihood of his becom- 
ing a customer, and see if there be any lack of diligence in business. 
Some, indeed, pertinaciously invite attention to their wares; some 
(and often well-dressed women) leave their premises a few yards 
to accost a stranger pointing to a 'good dress- coat' or 'an excellent 
frock' (coat). I am told that this practice is less pursued than it 
was, and it seems that the solicitations are now addressed chiefly 
to strangers. These strangers, persons happening to be passing, 
or visitors from curiosity, are at once recognised; for as in all not 
very extended localities, where the inhabitants pursue a similar 
calling, they are, as regards their knowledge of one another, as the 
members of one family. Thus a stranger is as easily recognised as 
he would be in a little rustic hamlet where a strange face is not 
seen once a quarter. Indeed so narrow are some of the streets and 
alleys in this quarter, and so little is there of privacy, owing to the 
removal, in warm weather, even of the casements, that the room is 
commanded in all its domestic details; and as among these details 
there is generally a further display of goods similar to the articles 
outside, the jammed-up places really look like a great family house 
with merely a sort of channel, dignified by the name of a street, 
between the right and left suites of apartments. 

In one off-street, where on a Sunday there is a considerable 
demand for Jewish sweet-meats by Christian boys, and a little sly, 
and perhaps not very successful gambling on the part of the in- 

Mayhew's London 215 

genuous youth to possess themselves of these confectionaries at the 
easiest rate, there are some mounds of builders' rubbish upon 
which, if an inquisitive person ascended, he could command the 
details of the upper rooms, probably the bed chambers — if in their 
crowded apartments these traders can find spaces for beds. 

It must not be supposed that old clothes are more than the 
great staple of the traffic of this district. Wherever persons are 
assembled there are certain to be purveyors of provisions and of 
cool or hot drinks for warm or cold weather. The interior of the 
Old Clothes Exchange has its oyster-stall, its fountain of ginger- 
beer, its coffee-house, and ale-house, and a troop of peripatetic 
traders, boys principally, carrying trays. Outside the walls of the 
Exchange this trade is still thicker. A Jew boy thrusts a tin of 
highly-glazed cakes and pastry under the people's noses here; and 
on the other side a basket of oranges regales the same sense by its 
proximity. At the next step the thoroughfare is interrupted by 
a gaudy-looking ginger-beer, lemonade, raspberryade, and nectar 
fountain; 'a halfpenny a glass, a halfpenny a glass, sparkling 
lemonade!' shouts the vendor as you pass. The fountain and the 
glasses glitter in the sun, the varnish of the wood-work shines, the 
lemonade really does sparkle, and all looks clean — except the 
owner. Close by is a brawny young Irishman, his red beard unshorn 
for perhaps ten days, and his neck, where it had been exposed to 
the weather, a far deeper red than his beard, and he is carrying 
a small basket of nuts, and selling them as gravely as if they were 
articles suited to his strength. A little lower is the cry, in a woman's 
voice, 'Fish, fried fish! Ha'penny; fish, fried fish!' and so monoto- 
nously and mechanically is it ejaculated that one might think the 
seller's life was passed in uttering these few words, even as a rook's 
is in crying 'Caw, caw.' Here I saw a poor Irishwoman who had 
a child on her back buy a piece of this fish (which may be had 'hot' 
or 'cold'), and tear out a piece with her teeth, and this with all the 
eagerness and relish of appetite or hunger; first eating the brown 
outside and then sucking the bone. I never saw fish look firmer or 
whiter. That fried fish is to be procured is manifest to more senses 
than one, for you can hear the sound of its being fried, and smell 
the fumes from the oil. In an open window opposite frizzle on an 
old tray, small pieces of thinly-cut-meat, with a mixture of onions, 
kept hot by being placed over an old pan containing charcoal. In 

216 Mayhevfs London 

another room a mess of batter is smoking over a grate. 'Penny a lot, 
oysters,' resounds from different parts. Some of the sellers com- 
mand two streets by establishing their stalls or tubs at a corner. 
Lads pass, carrying sweet-stuff on trays. I observed one very dark- 
eyed Hebrew boy chewing the hard-bake he vended — if it were not 
a substitute — with an expression of great enjoyment. Heaped-up 
trays of fresh-looking sponge-cakes are carried in tempting pyr- 
amids. Youths have stocks of large hard-looking biscuits, and 
walk about crying, 'Ha'penny biscuits, ha'penny; three a penny, 
biscuits;' these, with a morsel of cheese, often supply a dinner or 
a luncheon. Dates and figs, as dry as they are cheap, constitute 
the stock in trade of other street-sellers. 'Coker-nuts' are sold in 
pieces and entire; the Jew boy, when he invites to the purchase 
of an entire nut, shaking it at the ear of the customer. I was told 
by a costermonger that these juveniles had a way of drumming 
with their fingers on the shell so as to satisfy a 'green' customer 
that the nut offered was a sound one. 

Such are the summer eatables and drinkables which I have lately 
seen vended in the Petticoat-lane district. In winter there are, as 
long as daylight lasts — and in no other locality perhaps does it 
last so short a time — other street provisions, and, if possible, 
greater zeal in selling them, the hours of business being circum- 
scribed. There is then the potato-can and the hot elder-wine 
apparatus, and smoking pies and puddings, and roasted apples 
and chestnuts, and walnuts, and the several fruits which ripen in 
the autumn — apples, pears, &c. 

Hitherto I have spoken only of such eatables and drinkables as 
are ready for consumption, but to these the trade in the Petticoat- 
lane district is by no means confined. There is fresh fish, generally 
of the cheaper kinds, and smoked or dried fish (smoked salmon, 
moreover, is sold ready cooked), and costermongers' barrows, with 
their loads of green vegetables, looking almost out of place amidst 
the surrounding dinginess. The cries of 'Fine cauliflowers,' 'Large 
penny cabbages,' 'Eight a shilling, mackerel,' 'Eels, live eels,' 
mix strangely with the hubbub of the busier street. 

Other street-sellers also abound. You meet one man who says 
mysteriously, and rather bluntly, 'Buy a good knife, governor.' 
His tone is remarkable, and if it attract attention, he may hint 
that he has smuggled goods which he must sell anyhow. Such men, 

Mayhew^s London 217 

I am told, look out mostly for seamen, who often resort to Petti- 
coat-lane; for idle men like sailors on shore, and idle uncultivated 
men often love to lounge where there is bustle. Pocket and pen 
knives and scissors, 'Penny a piece, penny a pair,' rubbed over 
with oil, both to hide and prevent rust, are carried on trays, and 
spread on stalls, some stalls consisting of merely a tea-chest lid 
on a stool. Another man, carrying perhaps a sponge in his hand, 
and well-dressed, asks you, in a subdued voice, if you want a good 
razor, as if he almost suspected that you meditated suicide, and 
were looking out for the means! This is another ruse to introduce 
smuggled (or 'duffer's') goods. Account-books are hawked. 'Penny - 
a-quire,' shouts the itinerant street stationer (who, if questioned, 
always declares he said 'Penny half quire'). 'Stockings, stockings, 
two pence a pair.' 'Here's your chewl-ry; penny, a penny; pick 'em 
and choose 'em.' [I may remark that outside the window of one 
shop, or rather parlour, if there be any such distinction here, I saw 
the handsomest, as far as I am able to judge, and the best cheap 
jewellery I ever saw in the streets.] 'Pencils, sir, pencils; steel-pens, 
steel-pens; ha'penny, penny; pencils, steel-pens; sealing-wax, wax, 
wax, wax!' shouts one, 'Green peas, ha'penny a pint!' cries another. 

These things, however, are but the accompaniments of the main 
traffic. But as such things accompany all traffic, not on a small 
scale, and may be found in almost every metropolitan thorough- 
fare, where the police are not required, by the householders, to 
interfere, I will point out, to show the distinctive character of the 
street-trade in this part, what is not sold and not encouraged. 
I saw no old books. There were no flowers; no music, which indeed 
could not be heard except at the outskirts of the din; and no 
beggars plying their vocation among the trading class. 

Another peculiarity pertaining alike to this shop and street 
locality is, that everything is at the veriest minimum of price; 
though it may not be asked, it will assuredly be taken. The bottle 
of lemonade which is elsewhere a penny is here a halfpenny. The 
tarts, which among the street-sellers about the Royal Exchange 
are a halfpenny each, are here a farthing. When lemons are two 
a-penny in St. George's-market, Oxford-street, as the long line 
of street stalls towards the western extremity is called — they are 
three and four a-ponny in Petticoat and Rosemary lanes. Certainly 
there is a difference in size between the dearer and the cheaper 

218 Mayhew's London 

tarts and lemons, and perhaps there is a difference in quality also, 
but the rule of a minimized cheapness has no exceptions in this 
cheap-trading quarter. 

But Petticoat-lane is essentially the old clothes district. Embrac- 
ing the streets and alleys adjacent to Petticoat-lane, and including 
the rows of old boots and shoes on the ground, there is perhaps 
between two and three miles of old clothes. Petticoat-lane proper 
is long and narrow, and to look down it is to look down a vista 
of many coloured garments, alike on the sides and on the ground. 
The effect sometimes is very striking, from the variety of hues, 
and the constant flitting, or gathering, of the crowd into little 
groups of bargainers. Gowns of every shade and every pattern are 
hanging up, but none, perhaps, look either bright or white; it is 
a vista of dinginess, but many coloured dinginess, as regards 
female attire. Dress coats, frock coats, great coats, livery and 
game-keepers' coats, paletots, tunics, trousers, knee-breeches, 
waistcoats, capes, pilot coats, working jackets, plaids, hats, 
dressing gowns, shirts, Guernsey frocks, are all displayed. The 
predominant colours are black and blue, but there is every colour; 
the light drab of some aristocratic livery; the dull brown-green 
of velveteen; the deep blue of a pilot jacket; the variegated figures 
of the shawl dressing-gown; the glossy black of the restored 
garments; the shine of newly turpentined black satin waistcoats; 
the scarlet and green of some flaming tartan; these things — mixed 
with the hues of the women's garments, spotted and striped — 
certainly present a scene which cannot be beheld in any other part 
of the greatest city of the world, nor in any other portion of the 
world itself. 

The ground has also its array of colours. It is covered with lines 
of boots and shoes, their shining black relieved here and there by 
the admixture of females' boots, with drab, green, plum or laven- 
der-coloured 'legs,' as the upper part of the boot is always called 
in the trade. There is, too, an admixture of men's 'button-boots' 
with drab cloth legs; and of a few red, yellow, and russet coloured 
slippers; and of children's coloured morocco boots and shoes. 
Handkerchiefs, sometimes of a gaudy orange pattern, are heaped 
on a chair. Lace and muslins occupy small stands or are spread on 
the ground. Black and drab and straw hats are hung up, or piled 
one upon another and kept from falling by means of strings; while, 

Mayhew's London 219 

incessantly threading their way through all this intricacy, is a mass 
of people, some of whose dresses speak of a recent purchase in the 


Rosemary-lane, which has in vain been rechristened Royal Mint- 
street, is from half to three-quarters of a mile long — that is, if we 
include only the portion which runs from the junction of Leman 
and Dock streets (near the London Docks) to Sparrow-corner, 
where it abuts on the Minories. Beyond the Leman-street termina- 
tion of Rosemary-lane, and stretching on into Shadwell, are many 
streets of a similar character as regards the street and shop supply 
of articles to the poor; but as the old clothes trade is only occasion- 
ally carried on there, I shall here deal with Rosemary-lane proper. 

This lane partakes of some of the characteristics of Petticoat- 
lane, but without its so strongly marked peculiarities. Rosemary- 
lane is wider and airier, the houses on each side are loftier (in 
several parts), and there is an approach to a gin palace, a thing 
unknown in Petticoat-lane: there is no room for such a structure 

Rosemary-lane, like the quarter I have last described, has its 
off-streets, into which the traffic stretches. Some of these off-streets 
are narrower, dirtier, poorer in all respects than Rosemary-lane 
itself, which indeed can hardly be stigmatized as very dirty. These 
are Glasshouse-street, Russel-court, Hairbrine-court, Parson's- 
court, Blue Anchor-yard (one of the poorest places and with a half- 
built look), Darby-street, Cartwright-street, Peter's-court, Princes- 
street, Queen-street, and beyond these and in the direction of the 
Minories, Rosemary-lane becomes Sharp's-buildings and Sparrow- 
corner. There are other small non-thoroughfare courts, sometimes 
called blind alleys, to which no name is attached, but which are 
very well known to the neighbourhood as Union-court, &c; but 
as these are not scenes of street-traffic, although they may be the 
abodes of street-traffickers, they require no especial notice. 

The dwellers in the neighbourhood or the off-streets of Rosemary - 
lane, differ from those of Petticoat-lane by the proximity of the 
former place to the Thames. The lodgings here are occupied by 
dredgers, ballast-heavers, coal-whippers, watermen, lumpers, and 
others whose trade is connected with the river, as well as the slop- 

22 Mayheufs London 

workers and sweaters working for the Minories. The poverty of 
these workers compels them to lodge wherever the rent of the rooms 
is the lowest. As a few of the wives of the ballast-heavers, &c, are 
street-sellers in or about Rosemary-lane, the locality is often sought 
by them. About Petticoat-lane the off-streets are mostly occupied 
by the old clothes merchants. 

In Rosemary-lane is a greater street-trade, as regards things 
placed on the ground for retail sale, &c, than in Petticoat-lane; for 
though the traffic in the last-mentioned lane is by far the greatest, 
it is more connected with the shops, and fewer traders whose 
dealings are strictly those of the street alone resort to it. Rosemary- 
lane, too, is more Irish. There are some cheap lodging-houses in 
the courts, &c, to which the poor Irish flock; and as they are very 
frequently street- sellers, on busy days the quarter abounds with 
them. At every step you hear the Erse tongue, and meet with the 
Irish physiognomy; Jews and Jewesses are also seen in the street, 
and they abound in the shops. The street-traffic does not begin 
until about one o'clock, except as regards the vegetable, fish, and 
oysterstalls, &c, but the chief business of this lane, which is as 
inappropriately as that of Petticoat is suitably named, is in the 
vending of the articles which have often been thrown aside as 
refuse, but from which numbers in London wring an existence. 

One side of the lane is covered with old boots and shoes; old 
clothes, both men's, and women's, and children's; new lace for 
edgings, and a variety of cheap prints and muslins (also new); hats 
and bonnets; pots, and often of the commonest kinds; tins; old 
knives and forks, old scissors, and old metal articles generally; 
here and there is a stall of cheap bread or American cheese, or what 
is announced as American; old glass; different descriptions of 
second-hand furniture of the smaller size, such as children's chairs, 
bellows, &c. Mixed with these, but only very scantily, are a few 
bright-looking swag-barrows, with china ornaments, toys, &c. 
Some of the wares are spread on the ground on wrappers, or pieces 
of matting or carpet; and some, as the pots, are occasionally placed 
on straw. The cotton prints are often heaped on the ground; where 
are also ranges or heaps of boots and shoes, and piles of old clothes, 
or hats, or umbrellas. Other traders place their goods on stalls or 
barrows, or over an old chair or clothes-horse. And amidst all this 
motley display the buyers and sellers smoke, and shout, and doze, 

Mayhew's London 221 

and bargain, and wrangle, and eat and drink tea and coffee, and 
sometimes beer. Altogether Rosemary-lane is more of a street 
market than is Petticoat-lane. 


In the following accounts of street-selling, I shall not mix up any 
account of the retailers' modes of buying, collecting, repairing, or 
'restoring' the second-hand garments, otherwise than incidentally. 
I have already sketched the systems pursued, and more will have 
to be said concerning them under the head of Street Buyers. 
Neither have I thought it necessary, in the further accounts I have 
collected, to confine myself to the trade carried on in the Petticoat- 
and Rosemary-lane districts. The greater portion relates to those 
places, but my aim, of course, is to give an account which will show 
the character of the second-hand trade of the metropolis generally. 

'People should remember,' said an intelligent shoemaker (not 
a street-seller) with whom I had some conversation about cobbling 
for the streets, 'that such places as Rosemary-lane have their uses 
this way. But for them a very poor industrious widow, say, with 
only 2d. or 3d. to spare, couldn't get a pair of shoes for her child; 
whereas now, for 2d. or 3d., she can get them there, of some sort 
or other. There's a sort of decency, too, in wearing shoes. And 
what's more, sir — for I've bought old coats and other clothes in 
Rosemary-lane, both for my own wear and my family's, and know 
something about it — how is a poor creature to get such a decency 
as a petticoat for a poor little girl, if she'd only a penny, unless 
there were such places?' 

In the present state of the very poor, it may be that such places 
as those described have, on the principle that half a loaf is better 
than no bread, their benefits. But whether the state of things in 
which an industrious widow, or a host of industrious persons, can 
spare but Id. for a child's clothing (and nothing, perhaps, for their 
own), is one to be lauded in a Christian country, is another question, 
fraught with grave political and social considerations. 

The man from whom I received the following account of the sale 
of men's wearing apparel was apparently between 30 and 40 years 
of age. His face presented something of the Jewish physiognomy, 

222 Mayhew's London 

but he was a Christian, he said, though he never had time to go to 
church or chapel, and Sunday was often a busy day; besides, a 
man must live as others in his way lived. He had been connected 
with the sale of old clothes all his life, as were his parents, so that 
his existence had been monotonous enough, for he had never been 
more than five miles, he thought, from Whitechapel, the neighbour- 
hood where he was born. In winter he liked a concert, and was fond 
of a hand at cribbage, but he didn't care for the play. His goods he 
sometimes spread on the ground — at other times he had a stall 
or a 'horse' (clothes-horse). 

'My customers,' he said, 'are nearly all working people, some of 
them very poor, and with large families. For anything I know, 
some of them works with their heads, though, as well, and not 
their hands, for I've noticed that their hands is smallish and seems 
smoothish, and suits a tight sleeve very well. I don't know what 
they are. How should I? I asks no questions, and they'll tell me no 
fibs. To such as them I sell coats mostly; indeed, very little else. 
They're often very perticler about the fit, and often asks, "Does it 
look as if it was made for me?" Sometimes they is seedy, very seedy, 
and comes to such as me, most likely, 'cause we're cheaper than 
the shops. They don't like to try things on in the street, and I can 
always take a decent customer, or one as looks sich, in there, to try 
on (pointing to a coffee-shop). Bob-tailed coats (dress-coats) is far 
the cheapest. I've sold them as low as Is., but not often; at 2s. and 
3s. often enough; and sometimes as high as 5s. Perhaps a 3s. or 
3s. 6d. coat goes off as well as any, but bob-tailed coats is little 
asked for. Now, I've never had a frock (surtout or frock coat), 
as well as I can remember, under 2s. Q>d., except one that stuck by 
me a long time, and I sold it at last for 20d., which was 2d. less 
than what it cost. It was only a poor thing, in course, but it had 
such a rum-coloured velvet collar, that was faded, and had had 
a bit let in, and was all sorts of shades, and that hindered its 
selling, I fancy. Velvet collars isn't worn now, and I'm glad of it. 
Old coats goes better with their own collars (collars of the same 
cloth as the body of the coat). For frocks, I've got as much as 7s. 
6d., and cheap at it too, sir. Well, perhaps (laughing) at an odd 
time they wasn't so very cheap, but that's all in the way of trade. 
About 4s. 6d. or 5s. is perhaps the ticket that a frock goes off best 
at. It's working people that buys frocks most, and often working 

Mayhew^s London 22 3 

people's wives or mothers — that is as far as I know. They're 
capital judges as to what'll fit their men; and if they satisfy me it's 
all right, I'm always ready to undertake to change it for another 
if it don't fit. 0, no, I never agree to give back the money if it don't 
fit; in course not; that wouldn't be business. 

'No, sir, we're very little troubled with people larking. I have 
had young fellows come, half drunk, even though it might be 
Sunday morning, and say, "Guv'ner, what'll you give me to wear 
that coat for you, and show off your cut?" We don't stand much 
of their nonsense. I don't knoAvn what such coves are. Perhaps 
"torneys" journeymen, or pot-boys out for a Sunday morning's 
spree.' [This was said with such a bitterness that surprised me in 
so quiet-speaking a man]. 'In greatcoats and cloaks I don't do 
much, but it's a very good sale when you can offer them well worth 
the money. I've got 10s. often for a greatcoat, and higher and 
lower, oftener lower in course; but 10.9. is about the card for a good 
thing. It's the like with cloaks. Paletots don't sell well. They're 
mostly thinner and poorer cloth to begin with at the tailors — them 
new-fashioned named things often is so — and so they show when 
hard worn. Why no, sir, they can be done up, certainly; anything 
can be touched up; but they get thin, you see, and there's nothing 
to work upon as there is in a good cloth greatcoat. You'll excuse 
me, sir, but I saw you a little bit since take one of them there 
square books that a man gives away to people coming this way, 
as if to knock up the second-hand business, but he won't, though; 
I'll tell you how them slops, if they come more into wear, is sure 
to injure us. If people gets to wear them low-figured things, more 
and more, as they possibly may, why where's the second-hand 
things to come from? I'm not a tailor, but I understands about 
clothes, and I believe that no person ever saw anything green in 
my eye. And if you find a slop thing marked a guinea, I don't care 
what it is, but I'll undertake that you shall get one that'll wear 
longer, and look better to the very last, second-hand, at less than 
half the money, plenty less. It was good stuff and good make at 
first, and hasn't been abused, and that's the reason why it always 
bangs a slop, because it was good to begin with. 

'Trousers sell pretty well. I sell them, cloth ones, from 6d. up 
to 4.s. They're cheaper if they're not cloth, but very seldom less 
or so low as 6d. Yes, the cloth ones at that is poor worn things, 

224 Mayhew's London 

and little things too. They're not men's, they're youth's or boy's 
size. Good strong cords goes off very well at Is. and Is. 6^., or higher. 
Irish bricklayers buys them, and paviours, and such like. It's 
easy to fit a man with a pair of second-hand trousers. I can tell 
by his build what' 11 fit him directly. Tweeds and summer trousers 
is middling, but washing things sells worse and worse. It's an 
expense, and expenses don't suit my customers — not a bit of it. 
'Waistcoats isn't in no great call. They're often worn very hard 
under any sort of a tidy coat, for a tidy coat can be buttoned 
over anything that's "dicky," and so, you see, many of em's half- 
way to the rag-shop before they comes to us. Well, I'm sure I can 
hardly say what sort of people goes most for weskets' [so he pro- 
nounced it]. 'If they're light, or there's anything "fancy" about 
them, I thinks it's mothers as makes them up for their sons. What 
with the strings at the back and such like, it ain't hard to make 
a wesket fit. They're poor people as buys certainly, but genteel 
people buys such things as fancy weskets, or how do you suppose 
they'd all be got through? 0, there's ladies comes here for a 
bargain, I can tell you, and gentlemen, too; and many on 'em 
would go through fire for one. Second-hand satins (waistcoats) is 
good still, but they don't fetch the tin they did. I' ve sold weskets 
from \\d. to 4s. Well, it's hard to say what the three-ha'pennies 
is made of; all sorts of things; we calls them "serge." Three-pence 
is a common price for a little wesket. There's no under-weskets 
wanted now, and there 's no rolling collars. It was better for us 
when there was, as there was more stuff to work on. The double- 
breasted gets scarcer, too. Fashions grows to be cheap things now- 


No small part of the second-hand trade of London is carried on 
in the market-place of Smithfield, on the Friday afternoons. Here 
is a mart for almost everything which is required for the harnessing 
of beasts of draught, or is required for any means of propulsion or 
locomotion, either as a whole vehicle, or in its several parts, needed 
by street- traders: also of the machines, vessels, scales, weights, 
measures, baskets, stands, and all other appliances of street- trade. 
The scene is animated and peculiar. Apart from the horse, ass, 

Mayhem 's London 2 25 

and goat trade (of which I shall give an account hereafter), it is 
a grand Second-hand Coster mongers' Exchange. The trade is not 
confined to that large body, though they are the principal mer- 
chants, but includes greengrocers (often the costermonger in a 
shop), carmen, and others. It is, moreover, a favourite resort of the 
purveyors of street-provisions and beverages, of street dainties and 
luxuries. Of this class some of the most prosperous are those who 
are 'well known in Smithfield.' 

The space devoted to this second-hand commerce and its accom- 
paniments, runs from St. Bartholomew's Hospital towards Long- 
lane, but isolated peripatetic traders are found in all parts of the 
space not devoted to the exhibition of cattle or of horses. The 
crowd on the day of my visit was considerable, but from several 
I heard the not-always-very-veracious remarks of 'Nothing doing' 
and 'There's nobody at all here to-day.' The weather was sultry, 
and at every few yards arose the cry from men and boys, 'Ginger- 
beer, ha'penny a glass! Ha'penny a glass,' or 'Iced lemonade here! 
Iced raspberryade, as cold as ice, ha'penny a glass, only a ha'- 
penny!' A boy was elevated on a board at the end of a splendid 
affair of this kind. It was a square built vehicle, the top being 
about 7 feet by 4, and flat and surmounted by the lemonade 
fountain; long, narrow, champagne glasses, holding a raspberry 
coloured liquid, frothed up exceedingly, were ranged round, and 
the beverage dispensed by a woman, the mother or employer of 
the boy who was bawling. The sides of the machine, which stood 
on wheels, were a bright, shiny blue, and on them sprawled the 
lion and unicorn in gorgeous heraldry, yellow and gold, the artist 
being, according to a prominent announcement, a 'herald painter.' 
The apparatus was handsome, but with that exaggeration of hand- 
i someness which attracts the high and low vulgar, who cannot 
distinguish between gaudiness and beauty. The sale was brisk. The 
ginger-beer sold in the market was generally dispensed from carts, 
and here I noticed, what occurs yearly in street-commerce, an 
innovation on the established system of the trade. Several sellers 
disposed of their ginger-beer in clear glass bottles, somewhat 
larger and fuller-necked than those introduced by M. Soycr for the 
sale of his 'nectar,' and the liquid was drank out of the bottle the 
moment the cork was withdrawn, and so the necessity of a glass 
was obviated. 

226 Mayhem? s London 

Near the herald-painter's work, of which I have just spoken, 
stood a very humble stall on which were loaves of bread, and round 
the loaves were pieces of fried fish and slices of bread on plates, 
all remarkably clean. 'Oysters! Penny-a-lot! Penny-a-lot, oysters!' 
was the cry, the most frequently heard after that of ginger-beer, 
&c. 'Cherries! Twopence-a-pound! Penny-a-pound, cherries!' 
'Fruit-pies! Try my fruit-pies!' The most famous dealer in all 
kinds of penny pies is, however, not a pedestrian, but an equestrian 
hawker. He drives a very smart, handsome pie-cart, sitting behind 
after the manner of the Hansom cabmen, the lifting up of a lid 
below his knees displaying his large stock of pies. His 'drag' is 
whisked along rapidly by a brisk chestnut pony, well-harnessed. 
The 'whole set out,' I was informed, pony included, cost 50Z. 
when new. The proprietor is a keen Chartist and teetotaller, and 
loses no opportunity to inculcate to his customers the excellence 
of teetotalism, as well as of his pies. 'Milk! ha'penny a pint! ha'- 
penny a pint, good milk!' is another cry. 'Raspberry cream! Iced 
raspberry- cream, ha'penny a glass!' This street-seller had a capital 
trade. Street-ices, or rather ice-creams, were somewhat of a failure 
last year, more especially in Greenwich-park, but this year they 
seem likely to succeed. The Smithfield man sold them in very small 
glasses, which he merely dipped into a vessel at his feet, and so 
filled them with the cream. The consumers had to use their fingers 
instead of a spoon, and no few seemed puzzled how to eat their 
ice, and were grievously troubled by its getting among their teeth. 
I heard one drover mutter that he felt 'as if it had snowed in his 
belly!' Perhaps at Smithfield-market on the Friday afternoons 
every street-trade in eatables and drinkables has its representative, 
with the exception of such things as sweet-stuff, curds and whey, 
&c, which are bought chiefly by women and children. There were 
plum-dough, plum-cake, pastry, pea-soup, whelks, periwinkles, 
ham-sandwiches, hot-eels, oranges, &c, &c, &c. 

These things are the usual accompaniment of street-markets, 
and I now come to the subject matter of the work, the sale of 
second-hand articles. 

In this trade, since the introduction of a new arrangement two 
months ago, there has been a great change. The vendors are not 
allowed to vend barrows in the market, unless indeed with a pony 
or donkey harnessed to them, or unless they are wheeled about by 

Mayheiv's London 227 

the owner, and they are not allowed to spread their wares on the 
ground. When it is considered of what those wares are composed, 
the awkwardness of the arrangement, to the sales-people, may be 
understood. They consist of second-hand collars, pads, saddles, 
bridles, bits, traces, every description of worn harness, whole or 
in parts; the wheels, springs, axles, &c, of barrows, and carts; the 
beams, chains, and bodies of scales; — these, perhaps, are the chief 
things which are sold separately, as parts of a whole. The traders 
have now no other option but to carry them as they best can, and 
offer them for sale. You saw men who really appear clad in harness. 
Portions were fastened round their bodies, collars slung on their 
arms, pads or small cart-saddles, with their shaft-gear, were plant- 
ed on their shoulders. Some carried merely a collar, or a harness 
bridle, or even a bit or a pair of spurs. It was the same with the 
springs, &c, of the barrows and small carts. They were carried 
under men's arms, or poised on their shoulders. The wheels and 
other things which are too heavy for such modes of transport had 
to be placed in some sort of vehicle, and in the vehicles might be 
seen trestles, &c. 

The complaints on the part of the second-hand sellers were 
neither few nor mild: 'If it had been a fat ox that had to be accom- 
modated,' said one, 'before he was roasted for an alderman, they'd 
have found some way to do it. But it don't matter for poor men; 
though why we shouldn't be suited with a market as well as richer 
people is not the ticket, that's the fact.' 

These arrangements are already beginning to be infringed, and 
will be more and more infringed, for such is always the case. The 
reason why they were adopted was that the ground was so littered, 
that there was not room for the donkey traffic and other require- 
ments of the market. The donkeys, when 'shown,' under the old 
arrangement, often trod on boards of old metal, &c, spread on the 
ground, and tripped, sometimes to their injury, in consequence. 
Prior to the change, about twenty persons used to come from 
Petticoat-lane, &c, and spread their old metal or other stores on 
the ground. 

Of these there are now none. These Pctticoat-laners, I was told 
by a Smithfield frequenter, were men 'who knew the price of old 
rags,' — a new phrase expressive of their knowingness and keenness 
in trade. 

228 Maykevfs London 


The live animals sold in the streets include beasts, birds, fish, and 
reptiles, all sold in the streets of London. 

The class of men carrying on this business — for they are nearly 
all men — is mixed; but the majority are of a half-sporting and half- 
vagrant kind. One informant told me that the bird-catchers, for 
instance, when young, as more than three-fourths of them are, 
were those who 'liked to be after a loose end,' first catching their 
birds, as a sort of sporting business, and then sometimes selling 
them in the streets, but far more frequently disposing of them in 
the birdshops. 'Some of these boys,' a bird-seller in a large way of 
business said to me, 'used to become rat-catchers or dog-sellers, 
but there's not such great openings in the rat and dog line now. 
As far as I know, they're the same lads, or just the same sort of 
lads, anyhow, as you may see "helping," holding horses, or things 
like that, at concerns like them small races at Peckham or Chalk 
Farm, or helping any way at the foot-races at Camberwell.' There 
is in this bird-catching a strong manifestation of the vagrant spirit. 
To rise long before daybreak; to walk some miles before daybreak; 
from the earliest dawn to wait in some field, or common, or wood, 
watching the capture of the birds; then a long trudge to town to 
dispose of the fluttering captives; all this is done cheerfully, be- 
cause there are about it the irresistible charms, to this class, of 
excitement, variety, and free and open-air life. Nor do these 
charms appear one whit weakened when, a3 happens often enough, 
all this early morn business is carried on fasting. 

The old men in the bird-catching business are not to be ranked 
as to their enjoyment of it with the juveniles, for these old men are 
sometimes infirm, and can but, as one of them said to me some 
time ago, 'hobble about it.' But they have the same spirit, or the 
sparks of it. And in this part of the trade is one of the curious 
characteristics of a street-life, or rather of an open-air pursuit for 
the requirements of a street-trade. A man, worn out for other 
purposes, incapable of anything but a passive, or sort of lazy 
labour — such as lying in a field and watching the action of his 
trap-cages — will yet in a summer's morning, decrepit as he may 
be, possess himself of a dozen or even a score of the very freest and 

Mayhew^s London 229 

most aspiring of all our English small birds, a creature of the air 
beyond other birds of his 'order' — to use an ornithological term — 
of sky-larks. 

The dog-sellers are of a sporting, trading, idling class. Their 
sport is now the rat-hunt, or the ferret-match, or the dog-fight; as 
it was with the predecessors of their stamp, the cock-fight; the bull, 
bear, and badger bait; the shrove-tide cock-shy, or the duck hunt. 
Their trading spirit is akin to that of the higher- class sporting 
fraternity, the trading members of the turf. They love to sell and 
to bargain, always with a quiet exultation at the time — a matter 
of loud tavern boast afterwards, perhaps, as respects the street-folk 
— how they 'do' a customer, or 'do' one another. 'It's not cheating,' 
was the remark and apology of a very famous jockey of the old 
times, touching such measures; 'it's not cheating, it's outwitting.' 
Perhaps this expresses the code of honesty of such traders; not to 
cheat, but to outwit or over-reach. Mixed with such traders, 
however, are found a few quiet, plodding, fair-dealing men, whom 
it is difficult to classify, otherwise than that they are 'in the line, 
just because they likes it.' The idling of these street-sellers is a part 
of their business. To walk by the hour up and down a street, and 
with no manual labour except to clean their dogs' kennels, and to 
carry them in their arms, is but an idleness, although, as some of 
these men will tell you, 'they work hard at it.' 

Under the respective heads of dog and bird-sellers, I shall give 
more detailed characteristics of the class, as well as of the varying 
qualities and inducements of the buyers. 

The street-sellers of foreign birds, such as parrots, parroquets, 
and cockatoos; of gold and silver fish; of goats, tortoises, rabbits, 
leverets, hedge-hogs; and the collectors of snails, worms, frogs, 
and toads, are also a mixed body. Foreigners, Jews, seamen, 
country-men, costermongers, and boys form a part, and of them 
I shall give a description under the several heads. The prominently- 
characterized street-sellers are the traders in dogs and birds. 


Before I describe the present condition of the street-trade in 
dogs, which is principally in spaniels, or in the description well 

2 30 Mayheufs London 

known as lap-dogs, I will give an account of the former condition 
of the trade, if trade it can properly be called, for the 'finders' and 
'stealers' of dogs were the more especial subjects of a parliamentary 
inquiry, from which I derive the official information on the matter. 
The Report of the Committee was ordered by the House of Com- 
mons to be printed, July 26, 1844. 

In their Report the Committee observe, concerning the value 
of pet dogs: — 'From the evidence of various witnesses it appears, 
that in one case a spaniel was sold for 105/., and in another, under 
a sheriff's execution, for 951. at the hammer; and 501. or 60/. are 
not unfrequently given for fancy dogs of first-rate breed and 
beauty.' The hundred guineas' dog above alluded to was a 'black 
and tan King Charles's spaniel;' — indeed, Mr. Dowling, the editor 
of Bell's Life in London, said, in his evidence before the Committee, 
'I have known as much as 150Z. given for a dog.' He said after- 
wards: 'There are certain marks about the eyes and otherwise, 
which are considered "properties;" and it depends entirely upon 
the property which a dog possesses as to its value.' 

I cannot better show the extent and lucrativeness of this trade, 
than by citing a list which one of the witnesses before Parliament, 
Mr. W. Bishop, a gunmaker, delivered in to the Committee, of 
'cases in which money had recently been extorted from the owners 
of dogs by dog-stealers and their confederates.' There is no explan- 
ation of the space of time included under the vague term 'recently'; 
but the return shows that 151 ladies and gentlemen had been the 
victims of the dog-stealers or dog- finders, for in this business the 
words were, and still are to a degree, synonyms, and of these 62 
had been so victimized in 1843 and in the six months of 1844, from 
January to July. The total amount shown by Mr. Bishop to have 
been paid for the restoration of stolen dogs was 977Z. 45. 6d., or an 
average of 6/. 10s. per individual practised upon. 

These dog appropriators, as they found that they could levy 
contributions not only on royalty, foreign ambassadors, peers, 
courtiers, and ladies of rank, but on public bodies, and on the 
dignitaries of the state, the law, the army, and the church, became 
bolder and more expert in their avocations — a boldness which was 
encouraged by the existing law. Prior to the parliamentary inquiry, 
dog-stealing was not an indictable offence. The only mode of 
punishment for dog-stealing was by summary conviction, the 

Street-seller of Birds'-nests 

Scene in Petticoat-lane 

Mayhew's London 23 3 

penalty being fine or imprisonment; but Mr. Commissioner Mayne 
did not known of any instance of a dog- stealer being sent to prison 
in default of payment. Although the law recognised no property 
in a dog, the animal was taxed; and it was complained at the time 
that an unhappy lady might have to pay tax for the full term 
upon her dog, perhaps a year and a half after he had been stolen 
from her. One old offender, who stole the Duke of Beaufort's dog, 
was transported, not for stealing the dog, but his collar. 

The difficulty of proving the positive theft of a dog was extreme. 
In most cases, where the man was not seen actually to seize a dog 
which could be identified, he escaped when oarried before a magis- 
trate. 'The dog-stealers,' said Inspector Shackel, 'generally go 
two together; they have a piece of liver; they say it is merely 
bullock's liver, which will entice or tame the wildest or savagest 
dog which there can be in any yard; they give it to him, and take 
him from his chain. At other times,' continues Mr. Shackell, 'they 
will go in the street with a little dog, rubbed over with some sort 

of stuff, and will entice valuable dogs away If there is a dog 

lost or stolen, it is generally known within five or six hours where 
that dog is, and they know almost exactly what they can get for it, 
so that it is a regular system of plunder.' Mr. G. White, 'dealer in 
live stock, dogs, and other animals,' and at one time a 'dealer in 
lions, and tigers, and all sorts of things,' said of the dog-stealers: 
'In turning the corners of streets there are two or three of them 
together; one will snatch up a dog and put into his apron, and the 
others will stop the lady and say, "What is the matter?" and 
direct the party who has lost the dog in a contrary direction to 
that taken.' 

In this business were engaged from 50 to 60 men, half of them 
actual stealers of the animals. The others were the receivers, and 
the go-betweens or 'restorers.' The thief kept the dog perhaps for a 
day or two at some public-house, and he then took it to a dog-dealer 
with whom he was connected in the way of business. These dealers 
carried on a trade in 'honest dogs,' as one of the witnesses styled 
them (meaning dogs honestly acquired), but some of them dealt 
principally with the dog-stealers. Their depots could not be 
entered by the police, being private premises, without a search- 
warrant — and direct evidence was necessary to obtain a search- 
warrant — and of course a stranger in quest of a stolen dog would 

234 Mayhew's London 

not be admitted. Some of the dog-dealers would not purchase or 
receive dogs known to have been stolen, but others bought and 
speculated in them. If an advertisement appeared offering a reward 
for the dog, a negotiation was entered into. If no reward was offered, 
the owner of the dog, who was always either known or made out, 
was waited upon by a restorer, who undertook 'to restore the dog 
if terms could be come to.' A dog belonging to Colonel Fox was 
once kept six weeks before the thieves would consent to the 
Colonel's terms. One of the most successful restorers was a shoe- 
maker, and mixed little with the actual stealers; the dog-dealers, 
however, acted as restorers frequently enough. If the person robbed 
paid a good round sum for the restoration of a dog, and paid it 
speedily, the animal was almost certain to be stolen a second time, 
and a higher sum was then demanded. Sometimes the thieves 
threatened that if they were any longer trifled with they would 
inflict torture on the dog, or cut its throat. One lady, Miss Brown 
of Bolton-street, was so worried by these threats, and by having 
twice to redeem her dog, 'that she has left England,' said Mr. 
Bishop, 'and I really do believe for the sake of keeping the dog.' 
It does not appear, as far as the evidence shows, that these threats 
of torture or death were ever carried into execution; some of the 
witnesses had merely heard of such things. 


Concerning a dog-finder, I received the following account from 
one who had received the education of a gentleman, but whom 
circumstances had driven to an association with the vagrant class, 
and who has written the dog-finder's biography from personal 
knowledge — a biography which shows the variety that often 
characterizes the career of the 'lurker,' or street-adventurer. 

'If your readers,' writes my informant, 'have passed the Rubicon 
of "forty years in the wilderness," memory must bring back the 
time when the feet of their childish pilgrimage have trodden 
a beautiful grass-plot — now converted into Belgrave-square; when 
Pimlico was a "village out of town," and the "five fields" of Chelsea 
were fields indeed. To write the biography of a living character is 
always delicate, as to embrace all its particulars is difficult; but of 
the truthfulness of my account there is no question. 

Mayhew^s London 235 

'Probably about the } r ear of the great frost (1814), a French 
Protestant refugee, named La Roche, sought asylum in this 
country, not from persecution, but from difficulties of a commercial 
character. He built for himself, in Chelsea, a cottage of wood, 
nondescript in shape, but pleasant in locality, and with ample 
accommodations for himself and his son. Wife he had none. This 
little bazaar of mud and sticks was surrounded with a bench of 
rude construction, on which the Sunday visitors to Ranelagh used 
to sit and sip their curds and whey, while from the entrance — far 
removed in those days from competition — 

'There stood uprear'd, as ensign of the place, 
Of blue and red and white, a checquer'd mace, 
On which the paper lantern hung to tell 
How cheap its owner shaved you, and how well.' 

Things went on smoothly for a dozen years, when the old French- 
man departed this life. 

'His boy carried on the business for a few months, when frequent 
complaints of "Sunday gambling" on the premises' and loud 
whispers of suspicion relative to the concealment of stolen goods, 
induced "Chelsea George" — the name the youth had acquired — to 
sell the good-will of the house, fixtures, and all, and at the eastern 
extremity of London to embark in business as a "mush or mush- 
room-faker." Independently of his appropriation of umbrellas, 
proper to the mush-faker's calling, Chelsea George was by no 
means scrupulous concerning other little matters within his reach, 
and if the proprietors of the "swell cribs" within his "beat" had 
no "umbrellas to mend," or "old 'uns to sell," he would ease the 
pegs in the passage of the incumbrance of a greatcoat, and tele- 
graph the same out of sight (by a colleague), while the servant 
went in to make the desired inquiries. At last he was "bowl'd out" 
in the very act of "nailing a yack" (stealing a watch). He "ex- 
piated," as it is called, this offence by three months' exercise on 
the "cockchafer" (tread-mill). Unaccustomed as yet to the novelty 
of the exercise, he fell through the wheel and broke one of his legs. 
He was, of course, permitted to finish his time in the infirmary of 
the prison, and on his liberation was presented with five pounds 
out of "the Sheriffs' Fund." 

'Although, as I have before stated, he had never been out of 
England since his childhood, ho had some little hereditary know- 

236 Mayhew's London 

ledge of the French language, and by the kind and voluntary 
recommendation of one of the police-magistrates of the metropolis, 
he was engaged by an Irish gentleman proceeding to the Continent, 
as a sort of supernumerary servant, to "make himself generally 
useful." As the gentleman was unmarried, and mostly stayed at 
hotels, George was to have permanent wages and "find himself," 
a condition he invariably fulfilled, if anything was left in his way. 
Frequent intemperance, neglect of duty, and unaccountable 
departures of property from the portmanteau of his master, led to 
his dismissal, and Chelsea George was left, without friends or 
character, to those resources which have supported him for some 
thirty years. 

'During his "umbrella" enterprise he had lived in lodging-houses 
of the lowest kind, and of course mingled with the most depraved 
society, especially with the vast army of trading sturdy mendicants, 
male and female, young and old, who assume every guise of poverty, 
misfortune, and disease, which craft and ingenuity can devise or 
well-tutored hypocrisy can imitate. Thus initiated, Chelsea George 
could "go upon any lurk," could be in the last stage of consumption 
— actually in his dying hour — but now and then convalescent for 
years and years together. He could take fits and counterfeit blind- 
ness, be a respectable broken-down tradesman, or a soldier maimed 
in the service, and dismissed without a pension. 

'Thus qualified, no vicissitudes could be either very new or very 
perplexing, and he commenced operations without delay, and 
pursued them long without desertion. The "first move" in his 
mendicant career was taking them on the fly; which means meeting 
the gentry on their walks, and beseeching or at times menacing 
them till something is given; something in general was given to 
get rid of the annoyance, and, till the "game got stale," an hour's 
work, morning and evening, produced a harvest of success, and 
ministered to an occasion of debauchery. 

'His less popular, but more upright father, had once been a 
dog-fancier, and George, after many years' vicissitude, at length 
took a "fancy" to the same profession, but not on any principles 
recognised by commercial laws. With what success he has prac- 
tised, the ladies and gentlemen about the West-end have known, 
to their loss and disappointment, for more than fifteen years 

Mayhew^s London 237 

'Although the police have been and still are on the alert, George 
has, in every instance, hitherto escaped punishment, while numer- 
ous detections connected with escape have enabled the offender 
to hold these officials at defiance. The "modus operandi" upon 
which George proceeds is to varnish his hands with a sort of 
gelatine, composed of the coarsest pieces of liver, fried, pulverised, 
and mixed up with tincture of myrrh.' This is the composition of 
which Inspector Shackell spoke before the Select Committee, but 
he did not seem to know of what the lure was concocted. My 
correspondent continues: 'Chelsea George caresses every animal 
who seems "a likely spec," and when his fingers have been 
rubbed over the dogs' noses they become easy and perhaps willing 
captives. A bag carried for the purpose, receives the victim, and 
away goes George, bag and all, to his printer's in Seven Dials. 
Two bills and no less — two and no more, for such is George's style 
of work — are issued to describe the animal that has thus been 
found, and which will be "restored to its owner on payment of 
expenses." One of these George puts in his pocket, the other he 
pastes up at a public-house whose landlord is "fly" to its meaning, 
and poor "bow-wow" is sold to a "dealer in dogs," not very far 
from Sharp's alley. In course of time the dog is discovered; the 
possessor refers to the "establishment" where he bought it; the 
"dealer makes himself square" by giving the address of "the chap 
he bought 'un of," and Chelsea George shows a copy of the adver- 
tisement, calls in the publican as a witness, and leaves the place 
"without the slightest imputation on his character." Of this man's 
earnings I cannot speak with precision: it is probable that in a 
"good year" his clear income is 200/.; in a bad year but 100/., but, 
as he is very adroit, I am inclined to believe that the "good" 
years somewhat predominate, and that the average income may 
therefore exceed 150L yearly.' 


It will have been noticed that in the accounts I have given of the 
former street-transactions in dogs, there is no mention of the sellers. 
The information I have adduced is a condensation of the evidence 
given before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, and 
the inquiry related only to the stealing, finding, and restoring of 

238 Mayheufs London 

dogs, the selling being but an incidental part of the evidence. 
Then, however, as now, the street-sellers were not implicated in 
the thefts or restitution of dogs, 'just except,' one man told me, 
'as there was a black sheep or two in every flock.' The black sheep, 
however, of this street- calling more frequently meddled with 
restoring, than with 'finding.' 

Another street dog-seller, an intelligent man, — who, however, 
did not know so much as my first informant of the state of the 
trade in the olden time, — expressed a positive opinion, that no 
dog-stealer was now a street-hawker ('hawker' was the word I 
found these men use). His reasons for this opinion, in addition to 
his own judgment from personal knowledge, are cogent enough: 
'It isn't possible, sir,' he said, 'and this is the reason why. We are 
not a large body of men. We stick pretty closely, when we are out, 
to the same places. We are as well-known to the police, as any men 
whom they must know, by sight at any rate, from meeting them 
every day. Now, if a lady or gentleman has lost a dog, or it's been 
stolen or strayed — and the most petted will sometimes stray un- 
accountably and follow some stranger or other — why, where does 
she, and he, and all the family, and all the servants, first look for 
the lost animal? Why, where, but at the dogs we are hawking? 
No, sir, it can't be done now, and it isn't done in my knowledge, 
and it oughtn't to be done. I'd rather make 5s. on an honest dog 
than 51. on one that wasn't, if there was no risk about it either.' 
Other information convinces me that this statement is correct. 

There is one peculiarity in the hawking of fancy dogs, which 
distinguishes it from all other branches of street-commerce. The 
purchasers are all of the wealthier class. This has had its influence 
on the manners of the dog-sellers. They will be found, in the 
majority of cases, quiet and deferential men, but without servility, 
and with little of the quality of speech; and I speak only of speech 
which among English people is known as 'gammon,' and among 
Irish people as 'blarney.' This manner is common to many; to the 
established trainer of race-horses for instance, who is in constant 
communication with persons in a very superior position in life to 
his own, and to whom he is exceedingly deferential. But the trainer 
feels that in all points connected with his not very easy business, 
as well, perhaps, as in general turf knowingness, his royal highness 
(as was the case once), or his grace, or my lord, or Sir John, was 

Mayhew^s London 2 39 

inferior to himself; and so with all his deference there mingles a 
strain of quiet contempt, or rather, perhaps, of conscious superior- 
ity, which is one ingredient in the formation of the manners I have 
hastily sketched. 


The way in which the sale of sporting dogs is connected with 
street -traffic is in this wise: Occasionally a sporting-dog is offered 
for sale in the streets, and then, of course, the trade is direct. At 
other times, gentlemen buying or pricing the smaller dogs, ask the 
cost of a bull-dog, or a bull-terrier or rat-killer, and the street-seller 
at once offers to supply them, and either conducts them to a dog- 
dealer's, with whom he may be commercially connected, and 
where they can purchase those dogs, or he waits upon them at 
their residences with some 'likely animals.' A dog-dealer told me 
that he hardly knew what made many gentlemen so fond of bull- 
dogs, and they were 'the fonder on 'em the more blackguarder 
and varmint-looking the creatures was,' although now they were 
useless for sport, and the great praise of a bull-dog, 'never flew 
but at head in his life,' was no longer to be given to him, as there 
were no bulls at whose heads he could now fly. 

Another dog-dealer informed me — with what truth as to the 
judgment concerning horses I do not know, but no doubt with 
accuracy as to the purchase of the dogs — that Ibrahim Pacha, 
when in London, thought little of the horses which he saw, but was 
delighted with the bull-dogs, 'and he weren't so werry unlike one 
in the face hisself,' was said at the time by some of the fancy. 
Ibrahim, it seems, bought two of the finest and largest bull-dogs in 
London, of Bill George, giving no less than 101. for the twain. The 
bull-dogs now sold by the street-folk, or through their agency in 
the way I have described, are from 5/. to 25Z. each. The bull-terriers, 
of the best blood, are about the same price, or perhaps 10 to 15 
per cent, lower, and rarely attaining the tip-top price. 

The bull-terriers, as I have stated, are now the chief fighting- 
dogs, but the patrons of those combats — of those small imitations 
of the savage tastes of the Roman Colosseum, may deplore the 
decay of the amusement. From the beginning, until well on to the 
termination of the last century, it was not uncommon to see 

240 Mayhew^s London 

announcements of 'twenty dogs to fight for a collar,' though such 
advertisements were far more common at the commencement than 
towards the close of the century. Until within these twelve years, 
indeed, dog-matches were not unfrequent in London, and the 
favourite time for the regalement was on Sunday mornings. There 
were dog-pits in Westminster, and elsewhere, to which the ad- 
mission was not very easy, for only known persons were allowed to 
enter. The expense was considerable, the risk of punishment was 
not a trifle, and it is evident that this Sunday game was not support- 
ed by the poor or working classes. Now dog- fights are rare. 'There's 
not any public dog-fights,' I was told, 'and very seldom any in a pit 
at a public-house, but there's a good deal of it, I know, at the private 
houses of the nobs.' I may observe that 'the nobs' is a common 
designation for the rich among these sporting people. 

There are, however, occasionally dog-fights in a sporting-house, 
and the order of the combat is thus described to me: 'We'll say 
now that it's a scratch fight; two dogs each have their corner of 
a pit, and they're set to fight. They'll fight on till they go down 
together, and then if one leave hold, he's sponged. Then they fight 
again. If a dog has the worst of it he mustn't be picked up, but if 
he gets into his corner, then he can stay for as long as may be 
agreed upon, minute or half-minute time, or more than a minute. 
If a dog won't go to the scratch out of his corner, he loses the fight. 
If they fight on, why to settle it, one must be killed — though that 
very seldom happens, for if a dog's very much punished, he creeps 
to his corner and don't come out to time, and so the fight's settled. 
Sometimes it's agreed beforehand, that the master of a dog may 
give in for him; sometimes that isn't to be allowed; but there's 
next to nothing of this now, unless it's in private among the nobs.' 


The bird-sellers in the streets are also the bird-catchers in the fields, 
plains, heaths, and woods, which still surround the metropolis; 
and in compliance with established precedent it may be proper 
that I should give an account of the catching, before I proceed to 
any further statement of the procedures subsequent thereunto. 
The bird-catchers are precisely what I have described them in my 
introductory remarks. An intelligent man, versed in every part of 

Mayhew's London 241 

the bird business, and well acquainted with the character of all 
engaged in it, said they might be represented as of 'the fancy,' 
in a small way, and always glad to run after, and full of admiration 
of, fighting men. The bird-catcher's life is one essentiafly vagrant; 
a few gipsies pursue it, and they mix little in street- trades, except 
as regards tinkering; and the mass, not gipsies, who become bird- 
catchers, rarely leave it for any other avocation. They 'catch' until 
old age. During last winter two men died in the parish of Clerken- 
well, both turned seventy, and both bird-catchers — a profession 
they had followed from the age of six. 

The mode of catching I will briefly describe. It is principally 
effected by means of nets. A bird-net is about twelve yards square; 
it is spread flat upon the ground, to which it is secured by four 
'stars.' These are iron pins, which are inserted in the field, and 
hold the net, but so that the two 'wings', or 'flaps,' which are 
indeed the sides of the nets, are not confined by the stars. In the 
middle of the net is a cage with a fine wire roof, widely worked, 
containing the 'call-bird.' This bird is trained to sing loudly and 
cheerily, great care being bestowed upon its tuition, and its song 
attracts the wild birds. Sometimes a few stuffed birds are spread 
about the cage as if a flock were already assembling there. The 
bird-catcher lies flat and motionless on the ground, 20 or 30 yards 
distant from the edge of the net. As soon as he considers that a 
sufficiency of birds have congregated around his decoy, he rapidly 
draws towards him a line, called the 'pull-line,' of which he has 
kept hold. This is so looped and run within the edges of the net, 
that on being smartly pulled, the two wings of the net collapse 
and fly together, the stars still keeping their hold, and the net 
encircles the cage of the call-bird, and incloses in its folds all the 
wild birds allured round it. In fact it then resembles a great cage 
of net-work. The captives are secured in cages — the call-bird 
continuing to sing as if in mockery of their struggles — or in hampers 
proper for the purpose, which are carried on the man's back to 

The use of the call-bird as a means of decoy is very ancient. 
Sometimes — and more especially in the dark, as in the taking of 
nightingales — the bird-catcher imitates the notes of the birds to be 
captured. A small instrument has also been used for the purpose, 
and to this Chaucer, although figuratively, alludes: 'So, the birde 

242 Mayhew's London 

is begyled with the merry voice of the foulers' whistel, when it is 
closed in your nette.' 

Sometimes, in the pride of the season, a bird-catcher engages a 
costermonger's pony or donkey cart, and perhaps his boy, the 
better to convey the birds to town. The net and its apparatus 
cost 1/. The call-bird, if he have a good wild note — goldfinches 
and linnets being principally so used — is worth 10s. at the least. 

The bird-catcher's life has many, and to the constitution of some 
minds, irresistible charms. There is the excitement of 'sport' — not 
the headlong excitement of the chase, where the blood is stirred by 
motion and exercise — but still sport surpassing that of the angler, 
who plies his finest art to capture one fish at a time, while the bird- 
catcher despises an individual capture, but seeks to ensnare a flock 
at one twitch of a line. There is, moreover, the attraction of idleness, 
at least for intervals, and sometimes long intervals — perhaps the 
great charm of fishing — and basking in the lazy sunshine, to watch 
the progress of the snares. Birds, however, and more especially 
linnets, are caught in the winter, when it is not quite such holiday 
work. A bird-dealer (not a street -seller) told me that the greatest 
number of birds he had ever heard of as having been caught at 
one pull was nearly 200. My informant happened to be present 
on the occasion. 'Pulls' of 50, 100, and 150 are not very unfrequent 
when the young broods are all on the wing. 

Of the bird-catchers, including all who reside in Woolwich, 
Greenwich, Hounslow, Isleworth, Barnet, Uxbridge, and places 
of similar distance, all working for the London market, there are 
about 200. The localities where these men 'catch,' are the neigh- 
bourhoods of the places I have mentioned as their residences, and 
at Holloway, Hampstead, Highgate, Finchley, Battersea, Black- 
heath, Putney, Mortlake, Chiswick, Richmond, Hampton, King- 
ston, Eltham, Carshalton, Streatham, the Tootings, Woodford, 
Epping, Snaresbrook, Walthamstow, Tottenham, Edmonton — 
wherever, in fine, are open fields, plains, or commons around the 

I will first enumerate the several birds sold in the streets, as well 
as the supply to the shops by the bird-catchers. I have had recourse 
to the best sources of information. Of the number of birds which I 
shall specify as 'supplied,' or 'caught,' it must be remembered 
that a not- very-small proportion die before they can be trained to 

Mayhem's London 24 3 

song, or inured to a cage life. I shall also give the street prices. All 
the birds are caught by the nets with call-birds, excepting such as 
I shall notice. I take the singing birds first. 

The Linnet is the cheapest and among the most numerous of what 
may be called the London-caught birds, for it is caught in the 
nearer suburbs, such as Hollo way. The linnet, however, — the 
brown linnet being the species — is not easily reared, and for some 
time ill brooks confinement. About one-half of those birds die after 
having been caged a few days. The other evening a bird-catcher 
supplied 20 fine linnets to a shopkeeper in Pentonville, and next 
morning ten were dead. But in some of those bird shops, and bird 
chambers connected with the shops, the heat at the time the new 
broods are caught and caged, is excessive; and the atmosphere, 
from the crowded and compulsory fellowship of pigeons, and all 
descriptions of small birds, with white rats, hedgehogs, guinea-pigs, 
and other creatures, is often very foul; so that the wonder is, not 
that so many die, but that so many survive. 

Some bird-connoisseurs prefer the note of the linnet to that of 
the canary, but this is far from a general preference. The young 
birds are sold in the streets at 3d. and 4d. each; the older birds, 
which are accustomed to sing in their cages, from Is. to 2s. 6c?. 
The 'catch' of linnets — none being imported — may be estimated, 
for London alone, at 70,000 yearly. The mortality I have mentioned 
is confined chiefly to that year's brood, One-tenth of the catch is 
sold in the streets. Of the quality of the street-sold birds I shall 
speak hereafter. 

The Bullfinch, which is bold, familiar, docile, and easily attached, 
is a favourite cage-bird among the Londoners; I speak of course as 
regards the body of the people. It is as readily sold in the streets 
as any other singing bird. Piping bullfinches are also a part of street- 
trade, but only to a small extent, and with bird-sellers who can 
carry them from their street pitches, or call on their rounds, at 
places where they are known, to exhibit the powers of the bird. 
The piping is taught to these finches when very young, and they 
must be brought up by their tutor, and be familiar with him. When 
little more than two months old, they begin to whistle, and then 
their training as pipers must commence. This tuition, among 
professional bullfinch-trainers, is systematic. They have schools of 
birds, and teach in bird-classes of from four to seven members in 

244 Mayhew's London 

each, six being a frequent number. These classes, when their 
education commences, are kept unfed for a longer time than they 
have been accustomed to, and they are placed in a darkened room. 
The bird is wakeful and attentive from the want of his food, and the 
tune he is to learn is played several times on an instrument made 
for the purpose, and known as a bird-organ, its notes resembling 
those of the bullfinch. For an hour or two the young pupils mope 
silently, but they gradually begin to imitate the notes of the music 
played to them. When one commences — and he is looked upon 
as the most likely to make a good piper — the others soon follow his 
ecample. The light is then admitted and a portion of food, but not 
a full meal, is given to the birds. Thus, by degrees, by the playing 
on the bird-organ (a flute is sometimes used), by the admission of 
light, which is always agreeable to the finch, and by the reward 
of more and more, and sometimes more relishable food, the pupil 
'practises' the notes he hears continuously. The birds are then 
given into the care of boys, who attend to them without inter- 
mission in a similar way, their original teacher still overlooking, 
praising, or rating his scholars, till they acquire a tune which they 
pipe as long as they live. It is said, however, that only five per cent, 
of the number taught pipe in perfect harmony. The bullfinch is often 
pettish in his piping, and will in many instances not pipe at all, 
unless in the presence of some one who feeds it, or to whom it has 
become attached. 

The system of training I have described is that practised by the 
Germans, who have for many years supplied this country with the 
best piping bullfinches. Some of the dealers will undertake to 
procure English-taught bullfinches which will pipe as well as the 
foreigners, but I am told that this is a prejudice, if not a trick, of 
trade. The mode of teaching in this country, by barbers, weavers, 
and bird-fanciers generally, who seek for a profit from their pains- 
taking, is somewhat similar to that which I have detailed, but 
with far less elaborateness. The prico of a piping bullfinch is about 
three guineas. These pipers are also reared and taught in Leicester- 
shire and Norfolk, and sent to London, as are the singing bullfinch- 
es which do not 'pipe.' 

The bullfinches netted near London are caught more numerously 
about Hounslow than elsewhere. In hard winters they are abundant 
in the outskirts of the metropolis. The yearly supply, including 

Mayhew's London 245 

those sent from Norfolk, &c., is about 30,000. The bullfinch is 
'hearty compared to the linnet,' I was told, but of the amount 
which are the objects of trade, not more than two-thirds live many 
weeks. The price of a good young bullfinch is 2s. 6d. and 3s. They 
are often sold in the streets for Is. The hawking or street trade 
comprises about a tenth of the whole. 

The sale of piping bullfinches is, of course, small, as only the 
rich can afford to buy them. A dealer estimated it at about 400 

The Goldfinch is also in demand by street customers, and is a 
favourite from its liveliness, beauty, and sometimes sagacity. It is, 
moreover, the longest lived of our caged small birds, and will 
frequently five to the age of fifteen or sixteen years. A goldfinch 
has been known to exist twenty-three years in a cage. Small birds, 
generally, rarely live more than nine years. This finch is also in 
demand because it most readily of any bird pairs with the canary, 
the produce being known as a 'mule,' which, from its prettiness 
and powers of song, is often highly valued. 

Goldfinches are sold in the streets at from 6d. to Is. each, and 
when there is an extra catch, and they are nearly all caught about 
London, and the shops are fully stocked, at 3d. and Ad. each. The 
yearly catch is about the same as that of the linnet, or 70,000, the 
mortality being perhaps 30 per cent. If any one casts his eye over 
the stock of hopping, chirping little creatures in the window of 
a bird-shop, or in the close array of small cages hung outside, or 
at the stock of a street-seller, he will be struck by the preponder- 
ating number of goldfinches. No doubt the dealer, like an} 7 other shop- 
keeper, dresses his window to the best advantage, putting forward 
his smartest and prettiest birds. The demand for the goldfinch, 
especially among women, is steady and regular. The street-sale 
is a tenth of the whole. 

The Chaffinch is in less request than either of its congeners, the 
bullfinch or the goldfinch, but the catch is about half that of the 
bullfinch, and with the same rate of mortality. The prices are also 
the same. 

Greenfinches (called green birds, or sometimes green linnets, in 
the streets) are in still smaller request than are chaffinches, and 
that to about one-half. Even this smaller stock is little saleable, 
as the bird is regarded as 'only a middling singer.' They are sold 

246 Mayhew^s London 

in the open air, at 2d. and 3d. each, but a good 'green bird' is 
worth 2s. 6d . 

Larks are of good sale and regular supply, being perhaps more 
readily caught than other birds, as in winter they congregate in 
large quantities. It may be thought, to witness the restless throw- 
ing up of the head of the caged sky-lark, as if he were longing for a 
soar in the air, that he was very impatient of restraint. This does 
not appear to be so much the fact, as the lark adapts himself to 
the poor confines of his prison — poor indeed for a bird who soars 
higher and longer than any of his class — more rapidly than other 
wild birds, like the linnet, &c. The mortality of larks, however, 
approaches one-third. 

The yearly 'take' of larks is 60,000. This includes sky-larks, 
wood-larks, tit-larks, and mud-larks. The sky-lark is in far better 
demand than any of the others for his 'stoutness of song,' but 
some prefer the tit-lark, from the very absence of such stoutness. 
'Fresh-catched' larks are vended in the streets at 6d. and 8d., but 
a seasoned bird is worth 2s. Qd. One-tenth is the street-sale. 

The larks for the supply of fashionable tables are never provided 
by the London bird-catchers, who catch only 'singing larks,' for 
the shop and street -traffic. The edible larks used to be highly 
esteemed in pies, but they are now generally roasted for consump- 
tion. They are principally the produce of Cambridgeshire, with 
some from Bedfordshire, and are sent direct (killed) to Leadenhall- 
market, where about 215,000 are sold yearly, being nearly two- 
thirds of the gross London consumption. 

It is only within these twelve or fifteen years that the London 
dealers have cared to trade to any extent in Nightingales, but they 
are now a part of the stock of every bird-shop of the more flourishing 
class. Before that they were merely exceptional as cage-birds. As 
it is, the 'domestication,' if the word be allowable with reference 
to the nightingale, is but partial. Like all migratory birds, when the 
season for migration approaches, the caged nightingale shows 
symptoms of great uneasiness, dashing himself against the wires of 
his cage or his aviary, and sometimes dying in a few days. Many 
of the nightingales, however, let the season pass away without 
showing any consciousness that it was, with the race of birds to 
which they belonged, one for a change of place. To induce the 
nightingale to sing in the daylight, a paper cover is often placed 

Mayhew^s London 247 

over the cage, which may be gradually and gradually withdrawn 
until it can be dispensed with. This is to induce the appearance of 
twilight or night. 

I am inclined to believe that the mortality among nightingales, 
before they are reconciled to their new life, is higher than that of 
any other bird, and much exceeding one-half. The dealers may be 
unwilling to admit this; but such mortality is, I have been assured 
on good authority, the case; besides that, the habits of the night- 
ingale unfit him for a cage existence. 

The capture of the nightingale is among the most difficult 
achievements of the profession. None are caught nearer than Ep- 
ping, and the catchers travel considerable distances before they 
have a chance of success. These birds are caught at night, and more 
often by their captor's imitation of the nightingale's note, than with 
the aid of the call-bird. Perhaps 1,000 nightingales are reared yearly 
in London, of which three-fourths may be, more or less, songsters. 
The inferior birds are sold at about 2s. each, the street-sale not 
reaching 100, but the birds, 'caged and singing,' are worth 11. 
each, when of the best; and 10s., 12s. and 15s. each when approach- 
ing the best. The mortality I have estimated. 

Redbreasts are a portion of the street-sold birds, but the catch is 
not large, not exceeding 3,000, with a mortality of about a third. 
Even this number, small as it is, when compared with the numbers 
of other singing birds sold, is got rid of with difficulty. There is a 
popular feeling repugnant to the imprisonment or coercion in any 
way, of 'a robin,' and this, no doubt has its influence in moderating 
the demand. The redbreast is sold, when young, both in the shops 
and streets for Is., when caged and singing, sometimes for 1/. These 
birds are considered to sing best by candlelight. The street-sale is a 
fifth, or sometimes a quarter, all young birds, or with the rarest 

The Thrush, Throstle, or (in Scottish poetry) Mavis, is of good 
sale. It is reared by hand, for the London market, in many of tho 
villages and small towns at no great distance, the nests being 
robbed of the young, wherever they can be found. The nestling 
food of the infant thrush is grubs, worms, and snails, with an occa- 
sional moth or butterfly. On this kind of diet the young thrushes 
are reared until they are old enough for sale to the shopkeeper, 
or to any private patron. Thrushes are also netted, but those reared 

248 Mayhew's London 

by hand are much the best, as such a rearing disposes the bird the 
more to enjoy his cage life, as he has never experienced the delights 
of the free hedges and thickets. This process the catchers call 
'rising' from the nest. A throstle thus 'rose' soon becomes familiar 
with his owner — always supposing that he be properly fed and his 
cage duly cleaned, for all birds detest dirt — and among the working- 
men of England no bird is a greater favourite than the thrush; 
indeed few other birds are held in such liking by the artisan class. 
About a fourth of the thrushes supplied to the metropolitan traders 
have been thus 'rose,' and as they must be sufficiently grown 
before they will be received by the dealers, the mortality among 
them, when once able to feed themselves, in their wicker-work 
cages, is but small. Perhaps somewhere about a fourth perish in 
this hand-rearing, and some men, the aristocrats of the trade, let 
a number go when they have ascertained that they are hens, as 
these men exert themselves to bring up thrushes to sing well, and 
then they command good prices. Often enough, however, the hens 
are sold cheap in the streets. Among the catch supplied by netting, 
there is a mortality of perhaps more than a third. The whole take 
is about 35,000. Of the sale the streets have a tenth proportion. 
The prices run from 2s. 6a!. and 3s. for the 'fresh-caught,' and 
10s., 11., and as much as 21. for a seasoned throstle in high song. 
Indeed I may observe that for any singing bird, which is considered 
greatly to excel its mates, a high price is obtained. 

Blackbirds appear to be less prized in London than thrushes, for, 
though with a mellower note, the blackbird is not so free a singer 
in captivity. They are 'rose' and netted in the same manner as 
the thrush, but the supply is less by one-fifth. The prices, mortality, 
street-sale, &c, are in the same ration. 

The street-sale of Canaries is not large; not so large, I am assured 
by men in the trade, as it was six or seven years ago, more espe- 
cially as regarded the higher-priced birds of this open-air traffic. 

The foregoing enumeration includes all the singing- birds of street- 
traffic and street-folk's supply. The trade I have thus sketched 
is certainly one highly curious. We find that there is round London 
a perfect belt of men, employed from the first blush of a summer's 
dawn, through the heats of noon, in many instances during the 
night, and in the chills of winter; and all labouring to give to 
city-pent men of humble means one of the peculiar pleasures of tho 

Mayhew , s London 249 

country — the song of the birds. It must not be supposed that I 
would intimate that the bird-catcher's life, as regards his field and 
wood pursuits, is one of hardship. On the contrary, it seems to me to 
be the very one which, perhaps unsuspected by himself, is best suited 
to his tastes and inclinations. Nor can we think similar pursuits 
partake much of hardship when we find independent men follow 
them for mere sport, to be rid of lassitude. 


The street-sellers of birds are called by themselves 'hawkers,' 
and sometimes 'bird hawkers.' 

Among the bird-catchers I did not hear of any very prominent 
characters at present, three of the best known and most prominent 
having died within these ten months. I found among all I saw the 
vagrant characteristics I have mentioned, and often united with 
a quietness of speech and manner which might surprise those who 
do not know that any pursuit which entails frequent silence, watch- 
fulness, and solitude, forms such manners. Perhaps the man most 
talked of by his fellow-labourers, was Old Gilham, who died lately. 
Gilham was his real name, for among the bird-catchers there is not 
that prevalence of nicknames which I found among the coster- 
mongers and patterers. One reason no doubt is, that these bird- 
folk do not meet regularly in the markets. It is rarely, however, 
that they know each other's surnames, Old Gilham being an 
exception. It is Old Tom, or Young Mick, or Jack, or Dick, among 
them. I heard of no John or Richard. 

For 60 years, almost without intermission, Old Gilham caught 
birds. I am assured that to state that his 'catch' during this long 
period averaged 100 a week, hens included, is within the mark, 
for he was a most indefatigable man; even at that computation, 
however, he would have been the captor, in his lifetime, of three 
hundred and twelve thousand birds! A bird-catcher who used 
sometimes to start in the morning with Old Gilham, and walk with 
him until their roads diverged, told me that of late years the old 
man's talk was a good deal of where he had captured his birds in 
the old times: <: Why, Ned," he would say to me. proceeded his 
companion, "I've catched goldfinches in lots at Chalk Farm, and 

25 M ay hew' s London 

all where there's that railway smoke and noise just by the hill 
(Primrose Hill). I can't think where they'll drive all the birds to 
by and bj^e. I dare say the first time the birds saw a railway with 
its smoke, and noise to frighten them, and all the fire too, they 
just thought it was the devil was come." He wasn't a fool, wasn't 
old Gilliam, sir. "Why," he'd go on for to say, "I've laid many a 
day at Ball's Pond there, where it's nothing but a lot of houses 
now, and catched hundreds of birds. And I've catched them 
where there's all them grand squares Pimlico way, and in Britannia 
Fields, and at White Condic. What with all these buildings, and 
them barbers, I don't know what the bird-trade'll come to. It's 
hard for a poor man to have to go to Finchley for birds that he 
could have catched at Holloway once, but people never thinks of 
that. When I were young I could make three times as much as I 
do now. I've got a pound for a good sound chaffinch as I brought 
up myself." Ah, poor old Gilham, sir; I wish you could have seen 
him, he'd have told you of some queer changes in his time.' 


The young gypsy-looking lad, who gave me the following account 
of the sale of birds' -nests in the streets, was peculiarly picturesque 
in his appearance. He wore a dirty-looking smock-frock with large 
pockets at the side; he had no shirt; and his long black hair hung in 
curls about him, contrasting strongly with his bare white neck and 
chest. The broad-brimmed brown Italian-looking hat, broken in 
and ragged at the top, threw a dark half-mask-like shadow over 
the upper part of his face. His feet were bare and black with mud: 
he carried in one hand his basket of nests, dotted with their many- 
coloured eggs; in the other he held a live snake, that writhed and 
twisted as its metallic-looking skin glistened in the sun; now over, 
and now round, the thick knotty bough of a tree that he used for 
a stick. I have never seen so picturesque a specimen of the English 
nomad. He said, in answer to my inquiries: — 

'I am a seller of birds'-nesties, snakes, slow-worms, adders, 
"effets" — lizards is their common name — hedgehogs (for killing 
black beetles); frogs (for the French — they eats 'em); snails (for 
birds); that's all I sell in the summer-time. In the winter I get all 
kinds of wild flowers and roots, primroses, "butter-cups" and dai- 

Mayhew's London 251 

sies, and snow-drops, and "backing" off of trees; "backing" it's 
called, because it's used to put at the back of nosegays, it's got off 
the yew trees, and is the green yew fern. I gather bulrushes in the 
summer-time, besides what I told you; some buys bulrushes for 
stuffing; they're the fairy rushes the small ones, and the big ones 
is bulrushes. The small ones is used for "stuffing," that is, for show- 
ing off the birds as is stuffed, and make 'em seem as if they was alive 
in their cases, and among the rushes; I sell them to the bird-stuffers 
at Id. a dozen. The big rushes the boys buys to play with and beat 
one another — on a Sunday evening mostly. The birds'-nesties I 
get from Id. to 3d. a-piece for. I never have young birds, I can 
never sell 'em; j^ou see the young things generally dies of the cramp 
before you can get rid of them. I sell the birds'-nesties in the streets; 
the three-penny ones has six eggs, a half-penny a egg. The linnets 
has mostly four eggs, they're 4d. the nest; they're for putting 
under canaries, and being hatched by them. The thrushes has 
from four to five — five is the most; they're 2d.; they're merely for 
cur'osity — glass cases or anything like that. Moor-hens, wot build 
on the moors, has from eight to nine eggs, and is Id. a-piece; they 're 
for hatching underneath a bantam-fowl, the same as partridges. 
Chaffinches has five eggs; they're 3d., and is for cur'osity. Hedge- 
sparrows, five eggs; they're the same price as the other, and is for 
cur'osity. The Bottle-tit — the nest and the bough are always put in 
glass cases; it's a long hanging nest, like a bottle, with a hole about 
as big as a sixpence, and there's mostly as many as eighteen eggs; 
they've been known to lay thirty-three. To the house-sparrow 
there is five eggs; they're Id. The yellow-hammers, with five eggs, 
is 2d. The water-wagtails, with four eggs, 2d. Blackbirds, with five 
eggs, 2d. The golden-crest wren, with ten eggs — it has a very 
handsome nest — is Qd. Bullfinches, four eggs, Is.; they're for hatch- 
ing, and the bullfinch is a very dear bird. Crows, four eggs, 4d. 
Magpies, four eggs, 4d. Starlings, five eggs, 3d. The egg-chats, five 
eggs, 2d. Goldfinches, five eggs, Gd., for hatching. Martins, five eggs, 
3d. The swallow, four eggs, 6c?.; it's so dear because the nest is such 
a cur'osity, they build up again the house. The butcher-birds — 
hedge murderers some calls them, for the number of birds they 
kills — five eggs, 3d. The cuckoo — they never has a nest, but lays 
in the hedge-sparrow's; there's only one egg (it's very rare you 
see the two, they has been got, but that's seldom) that is 4d., the 

25 2 Mayhew's London 

egg is such a cur'osity. The greenfinches has four or five eggs, and 
is 3d. The sparrer-hawk has four eggs, and they're Qd. The reed- 
sparrow — they builds in the reeds close where the bulrushes grow; 
they has four eggs, and is 2d. The wood-pigeon has two eggs, and 
they're 4d. The horned owl, four eggs; they're Qd. The wood- 
pecker — I never see no more nor two — they're Qd. the two; they're 
a great cur'osity, very seldom found. The kingfishers has four eggs, 
and is Qd. That's all I know of. 

'I gets the eggs mostly from Witham and Chelmsford, in Essex 
Chelmsford is 20 mile from Whitechapel Church, and Witham, 
8 mile further. I know more about them parts than anywhere else, 
being used to go after moss for Mr. Butler, of the herb-shop in 
Covent Garden. Sometimes I go to Shirley Common and Shirley 
Wood, that's three miles from Croydon, and Croydon is ten from 
Westminster- bridge. When I'm out bird-nesting I take all the 
cross country roads across fields and into the woods. I begin bird- 
nesting in May and leave off about August, and then comes the 
bulrushing, and they last till Christmas; and after that comes the 
roots and wild flowers, which serves me up to May again. I go 
out bird-nesting three times a week. I go away at night, and come 
up on the morning of the day after. I'm away a day and two nights. 
I start between one and two in the morning and walk all night — 
for the coolness — you see the weather's so hot you can't do it in 
the daytime. When I get down I go to sleep for a couple of hours. 
I "skipper it" — turn in under a hedge or anywhere. I get down 
about nine in the morning, at Chelmsford, and about one if I go 
to Witham. After I've had my sleep I start off to get my nests and 
things. I climb the trees, often I go up a dozen in the day, and 
many a time there's nothing in the nest when I get up. I only fell 
once; I got on the end of the bough and slipped off. I p'isoned my 
foot once with the stagnant water going after the bulrushes, — 
there was horseleeches, and effets, and all kinds of things in the 
water, and they stung me, I think. I couldn't use my foot hardly 
for six weeks afterwards, and was obliged to have a stick to walk 
with. I couldn't get about at all for four days, and should have 
starved if it hadn't been that a young man kept me. He was a print- 
er by trade, and almost a stranger to me, only he seed me and took 
pity on me. When I fell off the bough I wasn't much hurt, nothing 
to speak of. The house-sparrow is the worst nest of all to take; it's 

Mayhew's London 25 3 

no value either when it is got, and is the most difficult of all to get 
at. You has to get up a sparapet (a parapet) of a house, and either 
to get permission, or run the risk of going after it without. Par- 
tridges' eggs (they has no nest) they gives you six months for, if 
they see you selling them, because it's game, and I haven't no 
licence; but while you're hawking, that is showing 'em, they 
can't touch you. The owl is a very difficult nest to get, they builds 
so high in the trees. The bottle-tit is a hard nest to find; you may 
go all the year round, and, perhaps, only get one. The nest I like 
best to get is the chaffinch, because they're in the hedge, and is 
no bother. Oh, you hasn't got the skylark down, sir; they builds on 
the ground, and has five eggs; I sell them for 4d. The robin-redbreast 
has five eggs, too, and is 3d. The ringdove has two eggs, and is 6d. 
The tit-lark — that's five blue eggs, and very rare — I get 4d. for 
them. The jay has five eggs, and a flat nest, very wiry, indeed; 
it's a ground bird; that's Is. — the egg is just like a partridge egg. 
When I first took a kingfisher's nest, I didn't know the name of it, 
and I kept wondering what it was. I daresay I asked three dozen 
people, and none of them could tell me. At last a bird-fancier, the 
lame man at the Mile-end gate, told me what it was. I likes to get 
the nesties to sell, but I haven't no fancy for birds. Sometimes I 
get squirrels' nesties with the young in 'em — about four of 'em 
there mostly is, and they're the only young things I take — the 
young birds I leaves; they're no good to me. The four squirrels 
brings me from 65. to 8s. After I takes a bird's nest, the old bird 
comes dancing over it, chirupping, and crying, and flying all about. 
When they lose their nest they wander about, and don't know 
where to go. Oftentimes I wouldn't take them if it wasn't for the 
want of the victuals, it seems such a pity to disturb 'em after 
they've made their little bits of places. Bats I never take myself — I 
can't get over 'em. If I has an order for 'em, I buys 'em of boys. 

'I mostly start off into the country on Monday and come up on 
Wednesday. The most nesties as ever I took is twenty-two, and I 
generally get about twelve or thirteen. These, if I've an order, I 
sell directly, or else I may be two days, and sometimes longer, 
hawking them in the street. Directly I've sold them I go off again 
that night, if it's fine; though I often go in the wet, and then I 
borrow a tarpaulin of a man in the street where I live. If I've a 
quick sale I get down and back three times in a week, but then I 

25 4 Mayhem's London 

don't go so far as Witham, sometimes only to Rumford; that is 12 
miles from Whitechapel Church. I never got an order from a bird- 
fancier; they gets all the eggs they want of the countrymen who 
comes up to market. 

'It's gentlemen I gets my orders of, and then mostly they tells 
me to bring 'em one nest of every kind I can get hold of, and that 
will often last me three months in the summer. There's one gentle- 
man as I sells to is a wholesale dealer in window-glass — and he 
has a hobby for them. He puts 'em into glass cases, and makes 
presents of 'em to his friends. He has been one of my best customers. 
I've sold him a hundred nesties, I'm sure. There's a doctor at 
Dalston I sell a great number to — he's taking one of every kind 
of me now. The most of my customers is stray ones in the streets. 
They're generally boys. I sells a nest now and then to a lady with 
a child; but the boys of twelve to fifteen years of age is my best 
friends. They buy 'em only for cur'osity. I sold three partridges' 
eggs yesterday to a gentleman, and he said he would put them 
under a bantam he'd got, and hatch 'em. 

'The snakes, and adders, and slow-worms I get from where 
there's moss or a deal of grass. Sunny weather's the best for them, 
they won't come out when it's cold; then I go to a dung-heap, 
and turn it over. Sometimes, I find five or six there, but never so 
large as the one I had to-day, that's a yard and five inches long, 
and three-quarters of a pound weight. Snakes is 5s. a pound. I sell 
all I can get to Mr. Butler, of Covent-Garden. He keeps 'em alive, 
for they're no good dead. I think it's for the skin they're kept. 
Some buys 'em to dissect: a gentleman in Theobalds-road does so, 
and so he does hedgehogs. Some buj's 'em for stuffing, and others 
for cur'osities. Adders is the same price as snakes, 5s. a pound after 
they first comes in, when they're 10s. Adders is wanted dead; 
it's only the fat and skin that's of any value; the fat is used for 
curing p'isoned wounds, and the skin is used for any one as has cut 
their heads. Farmers buys the fat, and rubs it into the wound when 
they gets bitten or stung by anything p'isonous. I kill the adders 
with a stick, or, when I has shoes, I jumps on 'em. Some fine days 
I get four or five snakes at a time; but then they're mostly small, 
and won't weigh above half a pound. I don't get many adders — 
they don't weigh many ounces, adders don't — and I mostly has Qd. 
a-piece for each I gets. I sells them to Mr. Butler as well. 

Mayheufs London 25 5 

'The hedgehogs is Is. each; I gets them mostty in Essex. I've 
took one hedgehog with three young ones, and sold the lot for 
2s. Qd. People in the streets bought them of me — they're wanted 
to kill the black-beetles; they're fed on bread and milk, and they'll 
suck a cow quite dry in their wild state. They eat adders, and 
can't be p'isoned, at least it says so in a book I've got about 'em at 

'The effets I gets orders for in the streets. Gentlemen gives me 
their cards, and tells me to bring them one; thejr're 2d. apiece. 
I get them at Hampstead and Highgate, from the ponds. They're 
wanted for cur'osity. 

'The snails and frogs I sell to Frenchmen. I don't know what 
part they eat of the frog, but I know they buy them, and the 
dandelion root. The frogs is Qd. and Is. a dozen. They like the yel- 
low-bellied ones, the others they're afraid is toads. They always 
pick out the yellow-bellied first; I don't know how to feed 'em, or 
else I might fatten them. Many people swallows young frogs, 
they're reckoned very good things to clear the inside. The frogs 
I catch in ponds and ditches up at Hampstead and Highgate, but 
I only get them when I've a order. I've had a order for as many 
as six dozen, but that was for the French hotel in Leicester-square; 
but I have sold three dozen a week to one man, a Frenchman, 
as keeps a cigar shop in R r's-court. 

'The snails I sell by the pailful — at 2s. 6d. the pail. There is some 
hundreds in a pail. The wet weather is the best times for catching 
'em; the French people eats 'em. They boils 'em first to get 'em 
out of the shell and get rid of the green froth; then they boils them 
again, and after that in vinegar. They eats 'em hot, but some of 
the foreigners likes 'em cold. They say they're better, if possible, 
than whelks. I used to sell a great many to a lady and gentleman 
in Soho-square, and to many of the French I sell ls.'s worth, that's 
about three or four quarts. Some persons buys snails for birds, and 
some to strengthen a sickly child's back; they rub the back all over 
with the snails, and a very good thing they tell me it is. I used to 
take 2s. 's worth a week to one woman; it's tb.3 green froth that 
does the greatest good. There are two more birds'-nest sellers 
besides myself, they don't do as many as me the two of 'em. They're 
very naked, their things is all to ribbins; they only go into the 
country once in a fortnight. They was never nothing, no trade — 

256 Mayhew^s London 

they never was in place — from what I've heard — either of them. 
I reckon I sell about 20 nesties a week take one week with another, 
and that I do for four months in the year. (This altogether makes 
320 nests.) Yes, I should say, I do sell about 300 birds'-nests every 
year, and the other two, I'm sure, don't sell half that. Indeed 
they don't want to sell; they does better by what they gets give to 
them. I can't say what they takes, they're Irish, and I never was 
in conversation with them. I get about 4s. to 5s. for the 20 nests, 
that's between 2d. and 3d. apiece. I sell about a couple of snakes 
every week, and for some of them I get Is., and for the big ones 
2s. 6d.\ but them I seldom find. I've only had three hedgehogs this 
season, and I've done a little in snails and frogs, perhaps about Is. 
The many foreigners in London this season hasn't done me no good. 
I haven't been to Leicester-square lately, or perhaps I might have 
got a large order or two for frogs.' 


Of these dealers, residents in London, there are about 70; but 
during my inquiry (at the beginning of July) there were not 20 in 
town. One of their body knew of ten who were at work live- fish 
selling, and there might be as many more, he thought, 'working' the 
remoter suburbs of Blackheath, Croydon, Richmond, Twickenham, 
Isleworth, or wherever there are villa residences of the wealthy. 
This is the season when the gold and silver fish-sellers, who are 
altogether a distinct class from the bird-sellers of the streets, resort 
to the country, to vend their glass globes, with the glittering fish 
swimming ceaselessly round and round. The gold fish- hawkers are, 
for the most part, of the very best class of the street-sellers. One of 
the principal fish-sellers is in winter a street- vendor of cough drops, 
hore-hound candy, coltsfoot-sticks, and other medicinal confec- 
tionaries, which he himself manufactures. Another leading gold- 
fish seller is a costermonger now 'on pine-apples.' A third, with 
a good connection among the innkeepers, is in the autumn and 
winter a hawker of game and poultry. 

There are in London three wholesale dealers in gold and silver 
fish; two of whom — one in the Kingsland-road and the other close 
by Billingsgate — supply more especially the street-sellers, and the 

Mayhew's London 25 7 

street-traffic is considerable. Gold fish is one of the things which 
people buy when brought to their doors, but which they seldom 
care to 'order.' The importunity of children when a man unexpect- 
edly tempts them with a display of such brilliant creatures as gold 
fish, is another great promotive of the street-trade; and the street- 
traders are the best customers of the wholesale purveyors, buying 
somewhere about three-fourths of their whole stock. The dealers 
keep their fish in tanks suited to the purpose, but gold fish are never 
bred in London. The English-reared gold fish are 'raised' for the 
most part, as respects the London market, in several places in 
Essex. In some parts they are bred in warm ponds, the water being 
heated by the steam from adjacent machinery, and in some places 
they are found to thrive well. Some are imported from France, 
Holland, and Belgium; some are brought from the Indies, and are 
usually sold to the dealers to improve their breed, which every 
now and then, I was told, 'required a foreign mixture, or they 
didn't keep up their colour.' The Indian and foreign fish, however, 
are also sold in the streets; the dealers, or rather the Essex breeders, 
who are often in London, have 'just the pick of them,' usually 
through the agency of their town customers. The English-reared 
gold fish are not much short of three-fourths of the whole supply, 
as the importation of these fishes is troublesome; and unless they 
are sent under the care of a competent person, or unless the master 
or steward of a vessel is made to incur a share in the venture, by 
being paid so much freight-money for as many gold and silver 
fishes as are landed in good health, and nothing for the dead or 
dying, it is very hazardous sending them on shipboard at all, as in 
case of neglect they may all die during the voyage. 

The gold and silver fish are of the carp species, and are natives 
of China, but they were first introduced into this country from 
Portugal about 1690. Some are still brought from Portugal. They 
have been common in England for about 120 years. 

These fish are known in the street-trade as 'globe' and 'pond' 
fish. The distinction is not one of species, nor even of the 'variety' 
of a species, but merely a distinction of size. The larger fish are 
'pond;' the smaller, 'globe.' But the difference on which the 
street-sellers principally dwell is that the pond fish are far more 
troublesome to keep by them in a 'slack time,' as they must be 
fed and tended most sedulously. Their food is stale bread or biscuit. 

258 Mayheufs London 

The 'globe' fish are not fed at all by the street-dealer, as the 
animalcules and the minute insects in the water suffice for their 
food. Soft rain, or sometimes Thames water, is used for the filling 
of the globe containing a street- seller's gold fish, the water being 
changed twice a day, at a public-house or elsewhere, when the 
hawker is on a round. Spring- water is usually rejected, as the soft 
water contains 'more feed.' One man, however, told me he had 
recourse to the street-pumps for a renewal of water, twice, or 
occasionally thrice a day, when the weather was sultry; but spring 
or well water 'wouldn't do at all.' He was quite unconscious that 
he was using it from the pump. 

The wholesale price of these fish ranges from 5s. to 18s. per dozen, 
with a higher charge for 'picked fish,' when high prices must be 
paid. The cost of 'large silvers,' for instance, which are scarcer 
than 'large golds,' so I heard them called, is sometimes 5s. apiece, 
even to a retailer, and rarely less than 3s. 6d. The most frequent 
price, retail from the hawker — for almost all the fish are hawked, 
but only there, I presume, for a temporary purpose — is 2s. the pair. 
The gold fish are now always hawked in glass globes, containing 
about a dozen occupants, within a diameter of twelve inches. 
These globes are sold by the hawker, or, if ordered, supplied by 
him on his next round that way, the price being about 2s. Glass 
globes, for the display of gold fish, are indeed manufactured at 
from 6d. to 11. 10s. each, but 2s. or 2s Qd. is the usual limit to the 
price of those vended in the street. The fish are lifted out of the 
water in the globe to consign to a purchaser, by being caught in a 
neat net, of fine and different-coloured cordage, always carried by 
the hawker, and manufactured for the trade at 2s. the dozen. Neat 
handles for these nets, of stained or plain wood, are Is. the dozen. 
The dealers avoid touching the fish with their hands. Both gold 
fish and glass globes are much cheaper than they were ten years 
ago; the globes are cheaper, of course, since the alteration in the 
tax on glass, and the street-sellers are, numerically, nearly double 
what they were. 

From a well-looking and well-spoken youth of 21 or 22, I had 
the following account. He was the son, and grandson, of coster- 
mongers, but was — perhaps, in consequence of his gold fish selling 
lying among a class not usually the costermongers' customers — of 
more refined manners than the generality of the costers' children. 

Mayhew^s London 259 

'I've been in the streets, sir,' he said, 'helping my father, 
until I was old enough to sell on my own account, since I was six 
years old. Yes, I like a street life, I'll tell you the plain truth, for 
I was put by my father to a paper stainer , and found I couldn't bear to 
stay in doors. It would have killed me. Gold fish are as good a thing to 
sell as anything else, perhaps, but I've been a costermonger as well, 
and have sold both fruit and good fish — salmon and fine soles. Gold 
fish are not good for eating. I tried one once, just out of curiosity, 
and it tasted very bitter indeed; I tasted it boiled. I've worked both 
town and country on gold fish. I've served both Brighton and Hast- 
ings. The fish were sent to me by rail, in vessels with air-holes, when 
I wanted more. I never stopped at lodging-houses, but at respect- 
able public-houses, where I could be well suited in the care of my 
fish. It's an expense, but there's no help for it.' [A costermonger, 
when I questioned him on the subject, told me that he had some- 
times sold gold fish in the country, and though he had often enough 
slept in common lodging-houses, he never could carry his fish 
there, for he felt satisfied, although he had never tested the fact, 
that in nine out of ten such places, the fish, in the summer season, 
Avould half of them die during the night from the foul air.] 'Gold 
fish sell better in the country than town,' the street-dealer con- 
tinued; 'much better. They're more thought of in the country. 
My father's sold them all over the world, as the saying is. I've sold 
both foreign and English fish. I prefer English. They're the 
hardiest; Essex fish. The foreign — I don't just know what part — are 
bred in milk ponds; kept fresh and sweet, of course; and when 
they're brought here, and come to be put in cold water, they soon 
die. In Essex they're bred in cold water. They live about three 
years; that's their lifetime if they're properly seen to. I don't know 
what kind of fish gold fish are. I've heard that they first came from 
China. No, I can't read, and I'm very sorry for it. If I have time 
next winter I'll get taught. Gentlemen sometimes ask me to sit 
down, and talk to me about fish, and their history (natural history), 
and I'm often at a loss, which I mightn't be if I could read. If I have 
fish left after my day's work, I never let them stay in the globe I've 
hawked them in, but put them into a large pan, a tub sometimes, 
threeparts full of water, where they have room. My customers are 
ladies and gentlemen, but I have sold to shop-keepers, such as 
buttermen, that often show gold fish and flowers in their shops. 

260 Mayhew^s London 

The fish don't live long in the very small globes, but they're put in 
them sometimes just to satisfy children. I've sold as many as two 
dozen at a time to stock a pond in a gentleman's garden. It's the 
best sale a little way out of town, in any direction. I sell six dozen 
a week, I think, one week with another; they'll run as to price at Is. 
apiece. That six dozen includes what I sell both in town and 
country. Perhaps I sell them nearly three-parts of the year. Some 
hawk all the year but it's a poor winter trade. Yes, I make a very 
fair living; 2s. 6d. or 3s. or so, a day, perhaps, on gold fish, when 
the weather suits.' 


The class of which I have now to treat, including as it does the 
street-sellers of coal, coke, tan-turf, salt, and sand, seem to have 
been called into existence principally by the necessities of the 
poorer classes. As the earnings of thousands of men, in all the slop, 
'slaughter-house, 'or 'scamping' branches of tailoring, shoe-making, 
cabinet-making, joining, &c. have become lower and lower, 
they are compelled to purchase the indispensable articles of daily 
consumption in the smallest quantities, and at irregular times, 
just as the money is in their possession. This is more especially the 
case as regards chamber-masters and garret-masters (among the 
shoemakers) and cabinet-makers, who, as they are small masters, 
and working on their own account, have not even such a regularity 
of payment as the journeyman of the slop-tailor. Among these poor 
artisans, moreover, the wife must slave with the husband, and it is 
often an object with them to save the time lost in going out to the 
chandler's-shop or the coal-shed, to have such things as coal and 
coke brought to their very doors, and vended in the smallest 
quantities. It is the same with the women who work for the slop- 
shirt merchants, &c, or make cap-fronts, &c, on their own account, 
for the supply of the shop-keepers, or the wholesale swag-men, who 
sell low-priced millinery. The street-sellers of the class I have now 
to notice are, then, the principal purveyors of the very poor. 

The men engaged in the street-sale of coal and coke — the chief 
articles of this branch of the street-sale — are of the costermonger 
class, as, indeed, is usually the case where an exercise of bodily 

Mayhew^s London 261 

strength is requisite. Costermongers, too, are better versed than 
any other street-folk in the management of barrows, carts, asses, 
ponies, or horses, so that when these vehicles and these animals 
are a necessary part of any open-air business, it will generally be 
found in the hands of the coster class. 

Nor is this branch of the street-traffic confined solely to articles 
of necessity. Under my present enumeration will be found the 
street-sale of shelfo, an ornament of the mantel-piece above the 
firegrate to which coal is a necessity. 

The present division will complete the subject of Street Sale in 
the metropolis. 


According to the returns of the coal market for the last few years, 
there has been imported into London, on an average, 3,500,000 
tons of sea-borne coal annually. Besides this immense supply, the 
various railways have lately poured in a continuous stream of the 
same commodity from the inland districts, which has found a ready 
sale without sensibly affecting the accustomed vend of the north 
country coals, long established on the Coal Exchange. 

The modes in which the coals imported into London are distri- 
buted to the various classes of consumers are worthy of observation, 
as they unmistakably exhibit not only the wealth of the few, but 
the poverty of the many. The inhabitants of Belgravia, the wealthy 
shopkeepers, and many others periodically see at their doors the 
well-loaded waggon of the coal merchant, with two or three swarthy 
'coal-porters' bending beneath the black heavy sacks, in the act 
of laying in the 10 or 20 tons for yearly or half-yearly consumption. 
But this class is supplied from a very different quarter from that of 
the artisans, labourers, and many others, who, being unable to 
spare money sufficient to lay in at once a ton or two of coals, must 
have recourse to other means. To meet their limited resources, 
there may be found in every part, always in back streets, persons 
known as coal-shed men, who get the coals from the merchant in 
7, L4, or 20 tons at a time, and retail them from \ cwt. upwards. 
The coal-shed men are a very numerous class, for there is not a 
low neighbourhood in any part of the city which contains not two 
or three of them in every street. 

26 2 May hew* s London 

There is yet another class of purchasers of coals, however, which 
I have called the 'very poor,' — the inhabitants of two pairs back — 
the dwellers in garrets, &c. It seems to have been for the purpose 
of meeting the wants of this class that the street-sellers of coals 
have sprung into existence. Those who know nothing of the decent 
pride which often lingers among the famishing poor, can scarcely be 
expected to comprehend the great boon that the street- sellers of 
coals, if they could only be made honest and conscientious dealers, 
are calculated to confer on these people. 'I have seen,' says a 
correspondent, 'the starveling child of misery, in the gloom of the 
evening, steal timidly into the shop of the coal-shed man, and in 
a tremulous voice ask, as if begging a great favour, for seven pounds 
of coals. The coal-shed man has set down his pint of beer, taken 
the pipe from his mouth, blowing after it a cloud of smoke, and in 
a gruff voice, at which the little wretch has shrunk up (if it were 
possible) into a less space than famine had already reduced her 
to, and demanded — "Who told you as how I sarves seven pound 

o' coal? — Go to Bill C he may sarve you if he likes — I won't, 

and that's an end on't — I wonders what people wants with seven 
pound o' coal." The coal-shed man, after delivering himself of this 
enlightened observation, has placidly resumed his pipe, while the 
poor child, gliding out into the drizzling sleet, disappeared in the 

As to the habits of the street-sellers of coals, they are as various 
as their different circumstances will admit; but they closely re- 
semble each other in one general characteristic — their provident 
and careful habits. Many of them have risen from struggling coster- 
mongers, to be men of substance, with carts, vans, and horses of 
their own. Some of the more wealthy of the class may be met with 
now and then in the parlours of respectable public houses, where 
they smoke their pipes, sip their brandy and water, and are remark- 
able for the shrewdness of their remarks. They mingle freely with 
the respectable tradesmen of their own localities, and may be seen, 
especially on the Sunday afternoons, with their wives and showily- 
dressed daughters in the gardens of the New Globe, or Green 
Dragon — the Cremorne and Vauxhall of the east. I visited the 
house of one of those who I was told had originally been a coster- 
monger. The front portion of the shop was almost rilled with coals, 
lie having added to his occupation of street-seller the business of 

Tiie Jew Old-clothes Man 



ill' I 

The Mud-Lark 

Mayhew^s London 265 

a coal-shed man; this his wife and little boy managed in his absence; 
while, true to his early training, the window-ledge and a bench 
before it were heaped up with cabbages, onions, and other vege- 
tables. In an open space opposite his door, I observed a one-horse 
cart and two or three trucks with his name painted thereon. At his 
invitation, I passed through what may be termed the shop, and 
entered the parlour, a neat room nicely carpeted, with a round table 
in the centre, chairs ranged primly round the walls, and a long look- 
ing-glass reflecting the china shepherds and shepherdesses on the 
mantel-piece, while, framed and glazed, all around were highly- 
coloured prints, among which, Dick Turpin, in flash red coat, 
gallantly clearing the toll-gate in his celebrated ride to York, and 
.lack Sheppard lowering himself down from the window of the 
lock-up house, were most conspicuous. In the window lay a few 
books, and one or two old copies of Bell'-i Life. Among the well- 
thumbed books, I picked out the Neivgate Calendar, and the 'Cal- 
endar of Orrers,' as he called it, of which he expressed a very high 
opinion. 'Lor' bless you,' he exclaimed, 'them there stories is the 
vonderfullest in the vorld! I'd never ha' believed it, if I adn't seed it 
with my own two hies, but there's can't be no mistake ven I read it 
hout o' the book, can there, now — I jist asks yer that 'ere plain 


Among the occupations that have sprung up of late years is that 
of the purchase and distribution of the refuse cinders or coke 
obtained from the different gas-works, which are supplied at a much 
cheaper rate than coal. Several of the larger gas companies burn 
as many as 100,000 tons of coals per annum, and some even more, 
and every ton thus burnt is stated to leave behind two chaldrons 
of coke, returning to such companies 50 per cent, of their outlay 
upon the coal. The distribution of coke is of the utmost import- 
ance to those whose poverty forces them to use it instead of coal. 
It is supposed that the ten gas companies in and about the metro- 
polis produce at least 1,400,000 chaldrons of coke, which are dis- 
tributed to the poorer classes by vans, one-horse carts, donkey 
carts, trucks, and itinerant vendors who carry one, and in some 
cases two sacks lashed together on their backs, from house to house. 

266 Mayhem's London 

The van proprietors are those who, having capital, contract with 
the companies at a fixed rate per chaldron the year through, and 
supply the numerous retail shops at the current price, adding 3d. 
per chaldron for carriage; thus speculating upon the rise or fall of 
the article, and in most cases carrying on a very lucrative business. 
This class numbers about 100 persons, and are to be distinguished 
by the words 'coke contractor,' painted on a showy ground on the 
exterior of their handsome well-made vehicles; they add to their 
ordinary business the occupation of conveying to their destination 
the coke that the companies sell from time to time. These men have 
generally a capital, or a reputation for capital, to the extent of 
400/. or 500/., and in some cases more, and they usually enter into 
their contracts with the companies in the summer, when but small 
quantities of fuel are required, and the gas-works are incommoded 
for want of space to contain the quantity made. They are conse- 
quently able, by their command of means, to make good bargains, 
and several instances are known of men starting with a wheel- 
barrow in this calling and who are now the owners of the dwellings 
in which they reside, and have goods, vans, and carts besides. 

Another class, to whom may be applied much that has been said 
of the van proprietors, are the possessors of one-horse carts, who in 
many instances keep small shops for the sale of greens, coal, &c. 
These men are scattered over the whole metropolis, but as they do 
not exclusively obtain their living by vending this article, they do 
not properly belong to this portion of the inquiry. 

A very numerous portion of the distributors of coke are the 
donkey- cart men, who are to be seen in all the poorer localities with 
a quantity shot in the bottom of their cart, and two or three sacks 
on the top or fastened underneath — for it is of a light nature — 
ready to meet the demand, crying 'Coke! coke! coke!' morning, 
noon, and night. This they sell as low as 2d. per bushel, coke having, 
in consequence of the cheapness of coals, been sold at the gas-works 
by the single sack as low as Id., and although there is here a seeming 
contradiction — that of a man selling and living by the loss — such 
is not in reality the case. It should be remembered that a bushel 
of good coke will weigh 40 lbs., and that the bushels of these men 
rarely exceed 25 lbs.; so that it will be seen by this unprincipled 
mode of dealing they can seemingly sell for less than they give and 
yet realize a good profit. 

Mayhew's London 267 


The street-trade in shells presents the characteristics I have before 
had to notice as regards the trade in what are not necessaries, or an 
approach to necessaries, in contradistinction of what men must 
have to eat or wear. Shells, such as the green snail, ear shell, and 
others of that class, though extensively used for inlaying in a variety 
of ornamental works, are comparatively of little value; for no 
matter how useful, if shells are only well known, they are considered 
of but little importance; while those which are rarely seen, no 
matter how insignificant in appearance, command extraordinary 
prices. As an instance I may mention that on the 23rd of June 
there was purchased by Mr. Sowerby, shell-dealer, at a public 
sale in King-street, Covent-garden, a small shell not two inches 
long, broken and damaged, and withal what is called a 'dead 
shell,' for the sum of 30 guineas. It was described as the Conus 
Glory Mary, and had it only been perfect would have fetched 100 

Shells, such as conches, cowries, green snails, and ear shells (the 
latter being so called from their resemblance to the human ear), 
are imported in large quantities, as parts of cargoes, and are sold 
to the large dealers by weight. Conch shells are sold at Ss. per cwt.; 
cowries and clams from 10s. to 12s. per cwt.; the green snail, used 
for inlaying, fetches from 1/. to 17. 10s. per cwt.; and the ear shell, 
on account of its superior quality, and richer variety of colours, 
as much as 31. and 5/. per cwt. The conches are found only among 
the West India Islands, and are used pricipally for garden orna- 
ments and grotto- work. The others come principally from the 
Indian Ocean and the China seas, and are used as well for chimney 
ornaments, as for inlaying, for the tops of work-tables and other 
ornamental furniture. 

The shells which are considered of the most value are almost 
invariably small, and of an endless variety of shape. They are called 
'cabinet' shells, and are brought from all parts of the world — 
land as well as sea — lakes, rivers, and oceans furnishing specimens 
to the collection. The Australian forests are continually ransacked 
to bring to light new varieties. I have been informed that there is 
not a river in England but contains valuable shells; that even in 

268 Mayhem's London 

the Thames there are shells worth from 10v. to \l. each. I have 
been shown a shell of the snail kind, found in the woods of New 
Holland, and purchased by a dealer for 21., and on which he 
confidently reckoned to make a considerable profit. 

Although 'cabinet' shells are collected from all parts, yet by 
far the greater number come from the Indian Ocean. They are 
generally collected by the natives, who sell them to captains and 
mates of vessels trading to these parts, and very often to sailors, 
all of whom frequently speculate to a considerable extent in these 
things, and have no difficulty in disposing of them as soon as they 
arrive in this country, for there is not a shell dealer in London who 
has not a regular staff of persons stationed at Gravesend to board 
the homeward-bound ships at the Nore, and sometimes as far off 
as the Downs, for the purpose of purchasing shells. It usually hap- 
pens that when three or four of these persons meet on board one 
ship, an animated competition takes place, so that the shells on 
board are generally bought up long before the ship arrives at London. 


There is yet another class of itinerant dealers who, if not traders 
in the streets, are traders in what was once termed the silent high- 
way — the river beer- sellers, or purl -men, as they are more com- 
monly called. These should strictly have been included among the 
sellers of eatables and drinkables; they have, however, been kept 
distinct, being a peculiar class, and having little in common with 
the other out-door sellers. 

I will begin my account of the river-sellers by enumerating the 
numerous classes of labourers, amounting to many thousands, who 
get their living by plying their respective avocations on the river, 
and who constitute the customers of these men. There are first the 
sailors on board the corn, coal, and timber ships; then the 'lumpers,' 
or those engaged in discharging the timber ships; the 'stevedores,' 
or those engaged in stowing craft; and the 'riggers,' or those 
engaged in rigging them; ballast-heavers, ballast-getters, corn- 
porters, coal-whippers, watermen and lightermen, and coal-porters, 
who, although engaged in carrying sacks of coal from the barges 
or ships at the river's side to the shore, where there are public- 

Mayhew^s London 269 

houses, nevertheless, when hard worked and pressed for time, 
frequently avail themselves of the presence of the purl-man to 
quench their thirst, and to stimulate them to further exertion. 

It would be a remarkable circumstance if the fact of so many 
persons continually employed in severe labour, and who, of course, 
are at times in want of refreshment, had not called into existence 
a class to supply that which was evidently required; under one 
form or the other, therefore, river-dealers boast of an antiquity as 
old as the naval commerce of the country. 

It appears to have been the practice at some time or other in this 
country to infuse wormwood into beer or ale previous to drinking 
it, either to make it sufficiently bitter, or for some medicinal pur- 
pose. This mixture was called purl — why I know not, but Bailey, 
the philologist of the seventeenth century, so designates it. The 
drink originally sold on the river was purl, or this mixture, whence 
the title, purl-inan. Now, however, the wormwood is unknown; and 
what is sold under the name of purl is beer warmed nearly to 
boiling heat, and flavoured with gin, sugar, and ginger. The river- 
sellers, however, still retain the name, oi purl -men, though there is 
not one of them with whom I have conversed that has the remotest 
idea of the meaning of it. 

To set up as a purl-man, some acquaintance of the river, and a 
certain degree of skill in the management of a boat, are absolutely 
necessary; as, from the frequently crowded state of the pool, and 
the rapidity with which the steamers pass and repass, twisting and 
wriggling their way through craft of every description, the unskilful 
adventurer would run in continual danger of having his boat 
crushed like a nutshell. The purl-men, however, through long 
practice, are scarcely inferior to the watermen themselves in the 
management of their boats; and they may be seen at all times 
easily working their way through every obstruction, now shooting 
athwart, the bows of a Dutch galliot or sailing-barge, then dropping 
astern to allow a steam-boat to pass till they at length reach the 
less troubled waters between the tiers of shipping. 

The first thing required to become a purl-man is to procure a 
licence from the Waterman's Hall, which costs 3s Rd. per annum. 
The next requisite is the possession of a boat. The boats used are all 
in the form of skills, rather short, but of a good breadth, and there- 
fore less liable to capsize through the swell of the steamers, or 

27 Mayhew^s London 

through any other cause. Thus equipped he then goes to some of 
the small breweries, where he gets two 'pins,' or small casks of 
beer, each containing eighteen pots; after this he furnishes himself 
with a quart or two of gin from some publican, which he carries in 
a tin vessel with a long neck, like a bottle — an iron or tin vessel to 
hold the fire, with holes drilled all round to admit the air and keep 
the fuel burning, and a huge bell, by no means the least important 
portion of his fit out. Placing his two pins of beer on a frame in the 
stern of the boat, the spiles loosened and the brass cocks fitted in, 
and with his tin gin bottle close to his hand beneath the seat, two 
or three measures of various sizes, a black tin pot for heating the 
beer, and his fire pan secured on the bottom of the boat, and 
sending up a black smoke, he takes his seat early in the morning 
and pulls away from the shore, resting now and then on his oars, 
to ring the heavy bell that announces his approach. Those on board 
the vessels requiring refreshment, when they hear the bell, hail 
'Purl ahoy'; in an instant the oars are resumed, and the purl-man 
is quickly alongside the ship. 

The bell of the purl-man not unfrequently performs another 
very important office. During the winter, when dense fogs settle 
down on the river, even the regular watermen sometimes lose them- 
selves, and flounder about bewildered perhaps for hours. The 
direction once lost, their shouting is unheeded or unheard. The 
purl-man's bell, however, reaches the ear through the surrounding 
gloom, and indicates his position; when near enough to hear the 
hail of his customers, he makes his way unerringly to the spot by 
now and then sounding his bell; this is immediately answered by 
another shout, so that in a short time the glare of his fire may be 
distinguished as he emerges from the darkness, and glides noise- 
lessly alongside the ship where he is wanted. 

The present race of purl-men, unlike the wrathcr-beaten tars 
who in former times alone were licensed, are generally young men, 
who have been in the habit of following some river employment, 
and who, either from some accident having befallen them in the 
course of their work, or from their preferring the easier task of 
sitting in their boat and rowing leisurely about to continuous 
labour, have started in the line, and ultimately superseded the old 
river dealers. This is easily explained. No man labouring on the river 
would purchase from a stranger when he knew that his own fellow- 

Mayhew^s London 2 7 1 

workman was afloat, and was prepared to serve him with as good 
an article; besides he might not have money, and a stranger could 
not be expected to give trust, but his old acquaintance would make 
little scruple in doing so. In this way the customers of the purl-men 
are secured; and many of these people do so much more than the 
average amount of business above stated, that it is no unusual 
thing to see some of them, after four or five years on the river, take 
a public-house, spring up into the rank of licensed victuallers, and 
finally become men of substance. 

Beside the regular purl- men, or, as they may be called, bumboat- 
men, there are two or three others who, perhaps unable to purchase 
a boat, and take out the licence, have nevertheless for a number of 
years contrived to carry on a traffic in spirits among the ships in 
the Thames. Their practice is to carry a flat tin bottle concealed 
about their person, with which they go on board the first ship in 
a tier, where they are well known by those who may be there 
employed. If the seamen wish for any spirit the river-vendor 
immediately supplies it, entering the name of the customers served, 
as none of the vendors ever receive, at the time of sale, any money 
for what they dispose of; they keep an account till their customers 
receive their wages, when they always contrive to be present, and 
in general succeed in getting what is owing to them. What their 
profits are it is impossible to tell, perhaps they may equal those of 
the regular purl-man, for they go on board of almost every ship 
in the course of the day. When their tin bottle is empty they go 
on shore to replenish it, doing so time after time if necessary. 

It is remarkable that although these people are perfectly well 
known to every purl-man on the river, who have seen them day 
by day, for many years going on board the various ships, and are 
thoroughly cognizant of the purpose of their visits, there has never 
been any information laid against them, nor have they been in 
any way interrupted in their business. 

There is one of these river spirit-sellers who has pursued the 
avocation for the greater part of his life; he is a native of the south 
of Ireland, now very old, and a little shrivelled-up man. He may 
still be seen every day, going from ship to ship by scrambling over 
the quarters where they are lashed together in tiers — a feat some- 
times attended with danger to the young and strong; yet he works 
his way with the agility of a man of 20, gets on board the ship he 

27 2 Mayhew^s London 

wants, and when there, were he not so well known, he might be 
thought to be some official sent to take an inventory of the contents 
of the ship, for he has at all times an ink-bottle hanging from one 
of his coat buttons, a pen stuck over his ear, spectacles on his nose, 
a book in his hand, and really has all the appearance of a man 
determined on doing business of some sort or other. He possesses a 
sort of ubiquity, for go where you will through any part of the pool 
you are sure to meet him. He seems to be expected everywhere; 
no one appears to be surprised at his presence. Captains and mates 
pass him by unnoticed and unquestioned. As suddenly as he comes 
does he disappear, to start up in some other place. His visits are so 
regular, that it would scarcely look like being on board ship if 

'old D , the whiskey man,' as he is called, did not make 

his appearance some time during the day, for he seems to be in 
some strange way identified with the river, and with every ship 
that frequents it. 


The persons who traverse the streets, or call periodically at certain 
places to purchase articles which are usually sold at the door or 
within the house, are — according to the division I laid down in 
the first number of this work — Street-Buyers. The largest, and, 
in every respect, the most remarkable body of these traders, are 
the buyers of old clothes, and of them I shall speak separately, 
devoting at the same time some space to the Street-Jews. 

The principal things bought by the itinerant purchasers consist 
of waste-paper, hare and rabbit skins, old umbrellas and parasols, 
bottles and glass, broken metal, rags, dripping, grease, bones, tea- 
leaves, and old clothes. 

With the exception of the buyers of waste-paper, among whom 
are many active, energetic, and intelligent men, the street-buyers 
are of the lower sort, both as to means and intelligence. The only 
further exception, perhaps, which I need notice here is, that among 
some umbrella-buyers, there is considerable smartness, and some- 
times, in the repair or renewal of the ribs, &c, a slight degree of 
skill. The other street- purchasers — such as the hare-skin and old 
metal and rag buyers, are often old and infirm people of both 
sexes, of whom — perhaps by reason of their infirmities — not a few 

Mahyew's London 27 3 

have been in the trade from their childhood, and are as well known 
by sight in their respective rounds, as was the 'long-remembered 
beggar' in former times. 

It is usually the lot of a poor person who has been driven to the 
streets, or has adopted such a life when an adult, to sell trifling 
things — such as are light to carry and require a small outlay — in 
advanced age. Old men and women totter about offering lucifer- 
matches, boot and stay-laces, penny memorandum books, and such 
like. But the elder portion of the street-folk I have now to speak of 
do not sell, but buy. 




I class all these articles under one head, for, on inquiry, I find no 
individual supporting himself by the trading in any one of them. 
I shall, therefore, describe the buyers of rags, broken metal, bottles, 
glass, and bones, as a body of street-traders, but take the articles 
in which they traffic seriatim, pointing out in what degree they are, 
or have been, wholly or partially, the staple of several distinct 

The street-buyers, who are only buyers, have barrows, sometimes 
even carts with donkeys, and, as they themselves describe it, they 
'buy everything.' These men are little seen in London, for they 
'work' the more secluded courts, streets, and alleys, when in 
town; but their most frequented rounds are the poorer parts of the 
populous suburbs. There are many in Croydon, Woolwich, Green- 
wich, and Deptford. 'It's no use,' a man who had been in the trade 
said to me, 'such as us calling at fine houses to know if they've 
any old keys to sell! No, we trades with the poor.' Often, however, 
they deal with the servants of the wealthy; and their usual mode of 
business in such cases is to leave a bill at the house a few hours 
previous to their visit. This document has frequently the royal arms 
at the head of it, and asserts that the 'firm' has been established 

since the year , which is seldom less than half a century. The 

hand- bill usually consists of a short preface as to the increased 
demand for rags on the part of the paper-makers, and this is fol- 
lowed by a liberal offer to give the very best prices for any old linen, 

27 4 Mayhew's London 

or old metal, bottles, rope, stair-rods, locks, keys, dripping, carpet- 
ing, &c, 'in fact, no rubbish or lumber, however worthless, will be 
refused;' and generally concludes with a request that this 'bill' 
may be shown to the mistress of the house and preserved, as it will 
be called for in a couple of hours. 

The papers are delivered by one of the 'firm,' who marks on 
the door a sign indicative of the houses at which the bill has been 
taken in, and the probable reception there of the gentleman who 
is to follow him. The road taken is also pointed by marks before 
explained. These men are residents in all quarters within 20 miles 
of London, being most numerous in the places at no great distance 
from the Thames. They work their way from their suburban 
residences to London, which, of course, is the mart, or 'exchange,' 
for their wares. The reason why the suburbs are preferred is that in 
those parts the possessors of such things as broken metal, &c, 
cannot so readily resort to a marine-store dealer's as they can 
in town. I am informed, however, that the shops of the marine-store 
men are on the increase in the more densely-peopled suburbs; 
still the dwellings of the poor are often widely scattered in those 
parts, and few will go a mile to sell any old thing. They wait in 
preference, unless very needy, for the visit of the street-buyer. 

A good many years ago — perhaps until 30 years back — rags, and 
especially white and good linen rags, were among the things most 
zealously inquired for by street -buyers, and then 3d. a pound was 
a price readily paid. Subsequently the paper- manufacturers 
brought to great and economical perfection the process of boiling 
rags in lye and bleaching them with chlorine, so that colour became 
less a desideratum. A few years after the peace of 1815, moreover, 
the foreign trade in rags increased rapidly. At the present time, 
about 1,200 tons of woollen rags, and upwards of 10,000 tons of 
linen rags, are imported yearly. 

The linen buying is still prosecuted extensively by itinerant 
'gatherers' in the country, and in the further neighbourhoods of 
London, but the collection is not to the extent it was formerly. 
The price is lower, and, owing to the foreign trade, the demand 
is less urgent; so common, too, is now the wear of cotton, and so 
much smaller that of linen, that many people will not sell linen 
rags, but reserve them for use in case of cuts and wounds, or for 
giving to their poor neighbours on any such emergency. 

Mayhew's London 27 5 

A street-buyer of the class I have described, upon presenting 
himself at any house, offers to buy rags, broken metal, or glass, 
and for rags especially there is often a serious bargaining, and 
sometimes, I was told by an itinerant street-seller, who had been 
an ear- witness, a little joking not of the most delicate kind. For 
coloured rags these men give \d. a pound, or Id. for three pounds; 
for inferior white rags \d. a pound, and up to \\d., for the best, 
'2d. the pound. It is common, however, and even more common, 
I am assured, among masters of the old rag and bottle shops, than 
among street-buyers, to announce '2d. or id., or even as much as 
Qd., for the best rags, but, somehow or other, the rags taken for sale 
to those buyers never are of the best. To offer 6d. a pound for rags 
is ridiculous, but such an offer may be seen at some rag-shops, the 
figure 6, perhaps, crowning a painting of a large plum-pudding, 
as a representation of what may be a Christmas result, merely 
from the thrifty preservation of rags, grease, and dripping. Some of 
the street-buyers, when working the suburbs or the country, attach 
a similar 'illustration' to their barrows or carts. I saw the winter 
placard of one of these men, which he was reserving for a country 
excursion as far as Rochester, 'when the plum-pudding time was 
a-coming.' In this pictorial advertisement a man and woman, 
very florid and full-faced, were on the point of enjoj'ing a huge 
plum pudding, the man nourishing a large knife, and looking very 
hospitable. On a scroll which issued from his mouth were the 

words: 'From our rags! The best prices given by , of 

London.' The woman in like manner exclaimed: 'From dripping 
and house fat! The best prices given by , of London.' 

This man told me that at some times, both in town and country, 
he did not buy a pound of rags in a week. He had heard the old 
hands in the trade say, that 20 or 30 years back they could 'gather' 
(the word generally used for buying) twice and three times as many 
rags as at present. My informant attributed this change to two 
causes, depending more upon what he had heard from experienced 
street-buyers than upon his own knowledge. At one time it was 
common for a mistress to allow her maid-servant to 'keep a rag- 
bag," in which all refuse linen, &c, was collected for sale for the 
servant's behoof; a privilege now rarely accorded. The other cause 
was that working-people's wives had less money at their command 
now than they had formerly, so that instead of gathering a good 

276 Mayhew^s London 

heap for the man who called on them periodically, they ran to a 
marine store-shop and sold them by one, two, and three penny- 
worths at a time. This related to all the things in the street-buyer's 
trade, as well as to rags. 


The principal purchasers of any refuse or worn-out articles are the 
proprietors of the rag-and-bottle-shops. Some of these men make 
a good deal of money, and not unfrequently unite with the business 
the letting out of vans for the conveyance of furniture, or for pleas- 
ure excursions, to such places as Hampton Court, The stench in 
these shops is positively sickening. Here in a small apartment may 
be a pile of rags, a sack-full of bones, the many varieties of grease 
and 'kitchen-stuff,' corrupting an atmosphere which, even without 
such accompaniments, would be too close. The windows are often 
crowded with bottles, which exclude the light; while the floor and 
shelves are thick with grease and dirt. The immates seem uncon- 
scious of this foulness, — and one comparatively wealthy man, who 
showed me his horses, the stable being like a drawing-room com- 
pared to his shop, in speaking of the many deaths among his 
children, could not conjecture to what cause it could be owing. This 
indifference to dirt and stench is the more remarkable, as many of 
the shopkeepers have been gentlemen's servants, and were therefore 
once accustomed to cleanliness and order. The door-posts and 
windows of the rag-and-bottle-shops are often closely placarded, 
and the front of the house is sometimes one glaring colour, blue or 
red; so that the place may be at once recognised, even by the 
illiterate, as the 'red house,' or the 'blue house.' It these men are 
not exactly street- buyers, they are street-billers, continually dis- 
tributing hand-bills, but more especially before Christmas. The 
more aristocratic, however, now send round cards, and to the 
following purport: — 

Mayhew's London 27 7 

No. — THE HOUSE IS 'S No.— 



Where you can obtain Gold and Silver to any amount. 



For all the undermentioned articles, viz: — 

Wax and Sperm Pieces 
Kitchen Stuff, &c. 
Wine & Beer Bottles 
Eau de Cologne, Soda Water 
Doctors' Bottles, &c. 
White Linen Rags 

Bones, Phials, & Broken Flint Glass 
Old Copper, Brass, Pewter, &c. 
Lead, Iron, Zinc, Steel, &c, &c. 
Old Horse Hair, Mattresses, &c. 
Old Books, Waste Paper, &c. 
All kinds of Coloured Rags 

The utmost value given for all kinds of Wearing Apparel. 

Furniture and Lumber of every description bought, and 

full value given at his Miscellaneous Warehouse. 

Articles sent for. 

The rag-and-hottle and the marine-store shops are in many in- 
stances but different names for the same description of business. 
The chief distinction appears to be this: the marine-store shop- 
keepers (proper) do not meddle with what is a very principal object 
of traffic with the rag-and-bottle man, the purchase of dripping, as 
well as of every kind of refuse in the way of fat or grease. The 
marine-store man, too, is more miscellaneous in his wares than his 
contemporary of the rag-and-bottle-store, as the former will pur- 
chase any of the smaller articles of household furniture, old tea- 
caddies, knife-boxes, fire-irons, books, pictures, draughts and back- 
gammon boards, bird-cages, Dutch clocks, cups and saucers, tools 
and brushes. The rag-and-bottle tradesman will readily purchase 
any of these things to be disposed of as old metal or waste-paper, 
but his brother tradesman buys them to be re-sold and re-used for 
the purposes for which they were originally manufactured. When 
furniture, however, is the staple of one of these second-hand store- 
houses, the proprietor is a furniture- broker, and not a marine-store 
dealer. If, again, the dealer in these stores confine his business to 
the purchase of old metals, for instance, he is classed as an old 
metal dealer, collecting it or buying it of collectors, for sale to iron 
founders, coppersmiths, brass-founders, and plumbers. In perhaps 
the majority of instances there is little or no distinction between 

27 8 Mayhem's London 

the establishments I have spoken of. The dolly business is common 
to both, but most common to the marine-store dealer, and of it I 
shall speak afterwards. 

These shops are exceedingly numerous. Perhaps in the poorer and 
smaller streets they are more numerous even than the chandlers' 
or the beer-sellers' places. At the corner of a small street, both in 
town and the nearer suburbs, will frequently be found the chand- 
ler's shop, for the sale of small quantities of cheese, bacon, groc- 
eries, &c, to the poor. Lower down may be seen the beer-sellers; 
and in the same street there is certain to be one rag-and-bottle or 
marine-store shop, very often two, and not unfrequently another 
is some adjacent court. 

I was referred to the owner of a marine-store shop, as to a 
respectable man, keeping a store of the best class. Here the counter, 
or table, or whatever it is to be called, for it was somewhat non- 
descript, by an ingenious contrivance could be pushed out into the 
street, so that in bad weather the goods which were at other times 
exposed in the street could be drawn inside without trouble. The 
glass frames of the window were removable, and were placed on 
one side in the shop, for in the summer an open casement seemed 
to be preferred. This is one of the remaining old trade customs 
still seen in London; for previously to the great fire in 1660, and 
the subsequent rebuilding of the city, shops with open casements, 
and protected from the weather by overhanging eaves, or by a 
sloping wooden roof, were general. 

The house I visited was an old one, and abounded in closets and 
recesses. The fire-place, which apparently had been large, was 
removed, and the space was occupied with a mass of old iron of 
every kind; all this was destined for the furnace of the iron-founder, 
wrought iron being preferred for several of the requirements of 
that trade. A chest or range of very old drawers, with defaced or 
worn-out labels — once a grocer's or a chemist's — was stuffed, in 
every drawer, with old horse-shoe nails (valuable for steel manu- 
facturers), and horse and donkey shoes; brass knobs; glass stoppers; 
small bottles (among them a number of the cheap cast 'hartshorn 
bottles'); broken pieces of brass and copper; small tools (such as 
shoemakers' and harness-makers' awls), punches, gimlets, plane- 
irons, hammer heads, &c; odd dominoes, dice, and backgammon- 
men; lock escutcheons, keys, and the smaller sort of locks, especially 

Mayhew^s London 279 

padlocks; in fine, any small thing which could be stowed away in 
such a place. 

In one corner of the shop had been thrown, the evening before, 
a mass of old iron, then just bought. It consisted of a number of 
screws of different lengths and substance; of broken bars and rails; 
of the odds and ends of the cogged wheels of machinery, broken 
up or worn out; of odd-looking spikes, and rings, and links; all 
heaped together and scarcely distinguishable. These things had 
all to be assorted; some to be sold for re-use in their then form; 
the others to be sold that they might be melted and cast into other 
forms. The floor was intricate with hampers of bottles; heaps of 
old boots and shoes; old desks and work-boxes; pictures (all mod- 
ern) with and without frames; waste-paper, the most of it of 
quarto, and some larger sized, soiled or torn, and strung closely 
together in weights of from 2 to 7 lbs.; and a fire-proof safe, stuffed 
with old fringes, tassels, and other upholstery goods, worn and 
discoloured. The miscellaneous wares were carried out into the 
street, and ranged by the door-posts as well as in front of the house. 
In some small out-houses in the yard were piles of old iron and tin 
pans, and of the broken or separate parts of harness. 

From the proprietor of this establishment I had the following 
account: — 

'I've been in the business more than a dozen years. Before that, 
I was an auctioneer's, and then a furniture broker's, porter. I wasn't 
brought up to any regular trade, but just to jobbing about, and 
a bad trade it is, as all trades is that ain't regular employ for a man. 
I had some money when my father died — he kept a chandler's 
shop — and I bought a marine.' [An elliptical form of speech 
among these traders.] T gave luZ. for the stock, and 5/. for entrance 
and good-will, and agreed to pay what rents and rates was due. 
It was a smallish stock then, for the business had been neglected, 
but I have no reason to bo sorry for my bargain, though it might 
have been better. There's lots taken in about good- wills, but 
perhaps not so many in my way of business, because we're rather 
"fly to a dodge." It's confined sort of life, but there's no help for 
that. Why, as to my waj' of trade, you'd be surprised, what differ- 
ent sorts of people come to my shop. I don't mean the regular 
hands; but the chance comers. I've had men dressed like gentlemen 
— and no doubt they was respectable when they was sober — bring 

280 Mayhem* s London 

two or three books, or a nice cigar case, or anythink that don't show 
in their pockets, and say, when as drunk as blazes, "Give me what 
you can for this; I want it sold for a particular purpose." That par- 
ticular purpose was more drink, I should say; and I've known the 
same men come back in less than a week, and buy what they'd 
sold me at a little extra, and be glad if I had it by me still. 0, we 
sees a deal of things in this way of life. Yes, poor people run to such 
as me. I've known them come with such things as teapots, and 
old hair mattresses, and flock beds, and then I'm sure they're hard 
up — reduced for a meal. I don't like buying big things like mattress- 
es, though I do purchase 'em sometimes. Some of these sellers are 
as keen as Jews at a bargain; others seem only anxious to get rid 
of things and have hold of some bit of money anyhow. Yes, sir, 
I've known their hands tremble to receive the money, and mostly 
the women's. They haven't been used to it, I know, when that's 
the case. Perhaps they comes to sell to me what the pawns won't 
take in, and what they wouldn't like to be seen selling to any of the 
men that goes about buying things in the street. 

'Why, I've bought everythink; at sales by auction there's often 
"lots" made up of different things, and they goes for very little. I 
buy of people, too, that come to me, and of the regular hands that 
supply such shops as mine. I sell retail and I sell to hawkers. I sell 
to anybody, for gentlemen'll come into my shop to buy anythink 
that's took their fancy in passing. Yes, I've bought old oil paint- 
ings. I've heard of some being bought by people in my way as have 
turned out stunners, and was sold for a hundred pounds or more, 
and cost, perhaps, half-a-crown or only a shilling. I never experi- 
enced such a thing myself. There's a good deal of gammon about it. 
Well, it's hardly possible to say anything about a scale of prices. 
I give 2d. for an old tin or metal teapot, or an old saucepan, and 
sometimes, two days after I've bought such a thing, I've sold it 
for '.id. to the man or woman I've bought it of. I'll sell cheaper to 
them than to anybody else, because they come to me in two ways — 
both as sellers and buyers. For pictures I've given from 'id. to la. 
I fancy they're among the last things some sorts of poor people, 
which is a bit fanciful, parts with. I've bought them of hawkers, 
but often I refuse them, as they've given more than I could get. 
Pictures requires a judge. Some brought to me was published by 
newspapers and them sort of people. Waste-paper I buy as it 

Mayhew^s London 281 

comes. I can't read very much, and don't understand about books. 
I take the backs oft' and weighs them, and gives Id., and l^d., and 
2d. a pound, and there's an end. I sell them at about \d. a pound 
profit, or sometimes less, to men as we calls "waste" men. It's a 
poor part of our business, but the books and paper takes up little 
room, and then it's clean and can be stowed anywhere, and is a 
sure sale. Well, the people as sells "waste" to me is not such as can 
read, I think; I don't know what they is; perhaps they're such as 
obtains possession of the books and whatnot after the death of old 
folks, and gets them out of the way as quick as they can. I know 
nothink about what they are. Last week, a man in black — he didn't 
seem rich — came into my shop and looked at some old books, and 
said "Have you any black lead ?" He didn't speak plain, and I could 
hardly catch him. I said, "No, sir, I don't sell black lead, but you'll 
get it at No. 27," but he answered, "Not black lead, but black 
letter," speaking very pointed. I said, "No," and I haven't a notion 
what he meant.' 


This body of traders cannot be classed as street- buyers, so that 
only a brief account is here necessary. The buyers are not now 
chance people, itinerant on any round, as at one period they were 
to a great extent, but they are the proprietors of the rag and bottle 
and marine-store shops, or those they employ. 

In this business there has been a considerable change. Until of 
late years women, often wearing suspiciously large cloaks and 
carrying baskets, ventured into perhaps every area in London, and 
asked for the cook at every house where they thought a cook might 
be kept, and this often at early morning. If the well-cloaked woman 
was known, business could be transacted without delay: if she were 
a stranger, she recommended herself by offering very liberal terms 
for 'kitchen-stuff'. The cook's, or kitchen-maid's, or servant-of-all- 
work's 'perquisites', were then generally disposed of to these collec- 
tors, some of whom were charwomen in the houses they resorted 
to for the purchase of the kitchen-stuff. They were often satisfied 
to purchase the dripping, &c, by the lump, estimating the weight 
and the value by the eye. In this traffic was frequently mixed up 

28 2 Mayhem* a London 

a good deal of pilfering, directly or indirectly. Silver spoons were 
thus disposed of. Candles, purposely broken and crushed, were 
often part of the grease; in the dripping, butter occasionally added 
to the weight; in the 'stock' (the remains of meat boiled down 
for the making of soup) were sometimes portions of excellent meat 
fresh from the joints which had been carved at table; and among 
the broken bread, might be frequently seen small loaves, unbroken. 

There is no doubt that this mode of traffic by itinerant char- 
women, &c, is still carried on, but to a much smaller extent than 
formerly. The cook's perquisites are in many cases sold under the 
inspection of the mistress, according to agreement; or taken to the 
shop by the cook or some fellow-servant; or else sent for by the 
shopkeeper. This is done to check the confidential, direct, and 
immediate trade-intercourse between merely two individuals, the 
buyer and seller, by making the transaction more open and regular. 
I did not hear of any persons who merely purchase the kitchen- 
stuff, as street-buyers, and sell it at once to the tallow-melter or 
the soap-boiler; it appears all to find its way to the shops I have 
described, even when bought by charwomen; while the shop- 
keepers send for it or receive it in the way I have stated, so that 
there is but little of street traffic in the matter. 

One of these shopkeepers told me that in this trading, as far as 
his own opinion went, there was as much trickery as ever, and that 
many gentlefolk quietly made up their minds to submit to it, while 
others, he said, 'kept the house in hot water' by resisting it. I 
found, however, the general opinion to be, that when servants 
could only dispose of these things to konwn people, the responsi- 
bility of the buyer as well as the seller was increased, and acted as 
a preventive check. 

The price of kitchen-stuff is Id. and 1 \d, the pound; for dripping 
— used by the poor as a substitute for butter — 3£c7. to 5d. 


These buyers are for the most part poor, old, or infirm people, and 
I am informed that the majority have been in some street business, 
and often as buyers, all their lives. 

I received an account of hareskin-buying from a woman, upwards 

Mayhew's London 28 3 

of fifty, who had been in the trade, she told me, from childhood, 
'as was her mother before her.' The husband, who was lame, and 
older than his wife, had been all his life a field- catcher of birds, 
and a street-seller of hearth-stones. They had been married 31 
years, and resided in a garret of a house, in a street off Drury-lane — 
a small room, with a close smell about it. The room was not un- 
furnished — it was, in fact, crowded. There were bird-cages, with 
and without birds, over what was once a bed; for the bed, just prior 
to my visit, had been sold to pay the rent, and a month's rent was 
again in arrear; and there were bird-cages on the w r all by the door, 
and bird-cages over the mantelshelf. There was furniture, too, and 
crockery; and a vile oil painting of 'still life'; but an eye used to 
the furniture in the rooms of the poor could at once perceive that 
there was not one article which could be sold to a broker or marine- 
store dealer, or pledged at a pawn-shop. I was told the man and 
woman both drank hard. The woman said: — 

'I've sold hareskins all my life, sir, and was born in London; 
but when the hareskins isn't in, I sells (lowers. I goes about now 
(in November) for my skins every day, wet or dry, and all day 
long — that is, till it's dark. To day I've not laid out a penny, but 
then it's been such a day for rain. I reckon that if I gets hold of 
eighteen hare and rabbit skins in a day, that is my greatest daj^'s 
work. I gives 2c?. for good hares, what's not riddled much, and sells 
thorn all for 2\d. I sells what I pick up, b} r the twelve or the twenty, 
if I can afford to keep them by me till that number's gathered, to 
a Jew. I don't know what is done with them. I can't tell you just 
what use they're for — something about hats.' (The Jew was no 
doubt a hat-furrier, or supplying a hat-furrier.) 'Jews gives us 
better prices than Christians, and buys readier; so I find. Last 
week I sold all I bought for '-\s. 6d. 1 take some weeks as much as 
8«. for what 1 pick up, and if I could get that every week I should 
think myself a lady. The profit left me a clear half-crown. There's 
no difference in any perticler year — only that things get worse. 
The game laws, as far as I knows, hasn't made no difference in my 
trade. Indeed, I can't say I knows anything about game laws at 
all, or hears anything consarning 'cm. I goes along the squares 
and streets. I buys most at gentlemen's houses. We never calls at 
hotels. The servants, and the women that chars, and washes, and 
jobs, manages it there. Hareskins is in— leastways I c'lects them — 

284 Mayhem's London 

from September to the end of March, when hares, they says, goes 
mad. I can't say what I makes one week with another — perhaps 
2s. Qd. mav be cleared everv week.' 

These bikers go regular rounds, carrying the skins in their 
hands, and crying, 'Any hareskins, cook? Hareskins.' it is for the 
most part a winter trade; but some collect the skins all the year 
round, as the hares are now vended the year through; but by far 
the most are gathered in the winter. 


Although my present inquiry relates to London life in London 
streets, it is necessary that I should briefly treat of the Jews gener- 
ally, as an integral, but distinct and peculiar part of streeet-life. 

During the eighteenth century the popular feeling ran very high 
against the Jews, although to the masses they were almost stran- 
gers, except as men employed in the not-very-formidable occupa- 
tion of collecting and vending second-hand clothes. The old feeling 
against them seems to have lingered among the English people, and 
their own greed in many instances engendered other and lawful 
causes of dislike, by their resorting to unlawful and debasing pur- 
suits. They were considered — and with that exaggeration of belief 
dear to any ignorant community — as an entire people of misers, 
usurers, extortioners, receivers of stolen goods, cheats, brothel- 
keepers, sheriffs-officers, clippers and sweaters of the coin of the 
realm, gaming-house keepers; in fine, the charges, or rather the 
accusations, of carrying on every disreputable trade, and none else, 
were 'bundled at their doors.' That there was too much foundation 
for many of these accusations, and still is, no reasonable Jew can 
now deny; that the wholesale prejudice against them was absurd, is 
equally indisputable. 

In what estimation the street, and, incidentally, all classes of 
Jews are held at the present time, will be seen in the course of my 
remarks; and in the narrative to be given. I may here observe, 
however, that among some the dominant feeling against the Jews 
on account of their faith still flourishes, as is shown by the following 
statement: — A gentleman of my acquaintance was one evening, 
about twilight, walking down Brydges- street, Covent-garden, 
when an elderly Jew was preceding him, apparently on his return 

Mayhew^s London 285 

from a day's work, as an old clothesman. His bag accidentally 
touched the bonnet of a dashing woman of the town, who was 
passing, and she turned round, abused the Jew, and spat at him, 
saying with an oath: 'You old rags humbug! You can't do that!' 
— an allusion to a vulgar notion that Jews have been unable to do 
more than slobber, since spitting on the Saviour. 

The number of Jews now in England is computed at 35,000. 
This is the result at which the Chief Rabbi arrived a few years ago, 
after collecting all the statistical information at his command. Of 
these 35,000, more than one-half, or about 18,000, reside in London. 
I am informed that there may now be a small increase to this 
population, but only small, for many Jews have emigrated — some 
to California. A few years ago — a circumstance mentioned in my 
account of the Street-Sellers of Jeweller} 7 — there were a number 
of Jews known as 'hawkers,' or 'travellers,' who traversed every 
part of England selling watches, gold and silver pencil-cases, eye- 
glasses, and all the more portable descriptions of jewellery, as well 
as thermometers, barometers, telescopes, and microscopes. This 
trade is now little pursued, except by stationery dealers; and the 
Jews who carried it on, and who were chiefly foreign Jews, have 
emigrated to America. The foreign Jews, who, though a fluctuating 
body, are always numerous in London, are included in the com- 
putation of 18,000; of this population two-thirds reside in the city, 
or the streets adjacent to the eastern boundaries of the city. 


The trades which the Jews most affect, I was told by one of them- 
selves, are those in which, as they describe it, 'there's a chance'; 
that is, they prefer a trade in such commodity as is not subjected 
to a fixed price, so that there may be abundant scope for specula- 
tion, and something like a gambler's chance for profit or loss. In this 
way, Sir Walter Scott has said, trade has 'all the fascination of 
gambling, without the moral guilt'; but the absence of moral guilt 
in connection with such trading is certainly dubious. 

The wholesale trades in foreign commodities which are now 
principally or solely in the hands of the Jews, often as importers 
and exporters, are, watches and jewels, sponges — fruits, especially 

286 Mayhem's London 

green fruits, such as oranges, lemons, grapes, walnuts, cocoa-nuts, 
&c, and dates among dried fruits — shells, tortoises, parrots and 
foreign birds, curiosities, ostrich feathers, snuffs, cigars, and pipes; 
but cigars far more extensively at one time. 

The localities in which these wholesale and retail traders reside 
are mostly at the East-end — indeed the Jews of London, as a con- 
gregated body, have been, from the times when their numbers were 
sufficient to institute a 'settlement' or 'colony,' peculiar to them- 
selves, always resident in the eastern quarter of the metropolis. 

Of course a wealthy Jew millionaire — merchant, stock-jobber, 
or stock-broker — resides where he pleases — in a villa near the 
Marquis of Hertford's in the Regent's-park, a mansion near the 
Duke of Wellington's in Piccadilly, a house and grounds at Clapham 
or Stamford -hill; but these are exceptions. The quarters of the Jews 
are not difficult to describe. The trading-class in the capacity of 
shopkeepers, warehousemen, or manufacturers, are the thickest in 
Houndsditch, Aldgate, and the Minories, more especially as regards 
the 'swag-shops' and the manufacture and sale of wearing apparel. 
The wholesale dealers in fruit are in Duke's-place and Pudding- 
lane (Thames-street), but the superior retail Jew fruiterers — some 
of whose shops are remarkable for the beauty of their fruit — are in 
Cheapside, Oxford-street, Piccadilly, and most of all in Covent- 
garden market. The inferior jewellers (some of whom deal with 
the first shops) are also at the East-end, about Whitechapel, Bevis- 
marks, and Houndsditch; the wealthier goldsmiths and watch- 
makers having, like other tradesmen of the class, their shops in 
the superior thoroughfares. The great congregation of working 
watchmakers is in Clerkenwell, but in that locality there are only 
a few Jews. The Hebrew dealers in second-hand garments, and 
second-hand wares generally, are located about Petticoat-lane. 
The manufacturers of such things as cigars, pencils, and sealing- 
wax; the wholesale importers of sponge, bristles and toys, the 
dealers in quills and in 'looking-glasses,' reside in large private- 
looking houses, when display is not needed for purposes of business, 
in such parts as Maunsell-street, Great Prescott-strect, Great Ailie- 
street, Leman-street, and other parts of the eastern quarter known 
as Coodman's-fields. The wholesale dealers in foreign birds and 
shells, and in the many foreign things known as 'curiosities,' reside 
in East Smithfield, Ratcliife-highway, High-street (Shadwell), or 

Maylnevo's London 287 

in some of the parts adjacent to the Thames. In the long range of 
river-side streets, stretching from the Tower to Poplar and Black- 
wall, are Jews, who fulfil the many capacities of slop-sellers, &c, 
called into exercise by the requirements of seafaring people on 
their return from or commencement of a voyage. A few Jews keep 
boarding-houses for sailors in Shad we 11 and Wapping. Of the 
localities and abodes of the poorest of the Jews I shall speak here- 

Concerning the street-trades pursued by the Jews, I believe there 
is not at present a single one of which they can be said to have a 
monopoly: nor in any one branch of the street -traffic are there so 
many of the Jew traders as there were a few years back. 

This remarkable change is thus to be accounted for. Strange as 
the fact may appear, the Jew has been undersold in the streets, 
and he has been beaten on what might be called his own ground 
— the buying of old clothes. The Jew boys, and the feebler and 
elder Jews, had, until some twelve or fifteen years back, almost the 
monopoly of orange and lemon street-selling, or street-hawking. 
The costermonger class had possession of the theatre doors and 
the approaches to the theatres; they had, too, occasionally their 
barrows full of oranges; but the Jews were the daily, assiduous, 
and itinerant street-sellers of this most popular of foreign, and 
perhaps of all, fruits. In their hopes of sale they followed any one 
a mile if encouraged, even by a few approving glances. The great 
theatre of this traffic was in the stagecoach yards in such inns as 
the Bull and Mouth (St. Martin's-le-Grand), the Belle Sauvage 
(Ludgate-hill), the Saracen's Head (Snow-hill), the Bull (Aldgate), 
the Swan-with-two-Necks (Lad-lane, City), the George and Blue 
Boar (Holborn). the White Horse (Fetter-lane), and other such 
places. They were seen too, 'with all their eyes about them,' as 
one informant expressed it, outside the inns where the coaches 
stopped to take up passengers — at the White Horse Cellar in 
Piccadilly, for instance, and the Angel and the (now defunct) 
Peacock in Islington. A commercial traveller told me that he 
could never leave town by any 'mail' or 'stage,' without being 
besieged by a small army of Jew boys, who most pertinaciously 
offered him oranges, lemons, sponges, combs, pocket-books, pencils, 
sealing-wax, paper, many-bladed pen-knives, razors, pocket- 
mirrors, and shaving-boxes — as if a man could not possibly cpjit 

288 Mayhew^s London 

the metropolis without requiring a stock of such commodities. In 
the whole of these trades, unless in some degree in sponges and 
blacklead-pencils, the Jew is now out-numbered or displaced. 

I have before alluded to the underselling of the Jew boy by the 
Irish boy in the street-orange trade; but the characteristics of the 
change are so peculiar, that a further notice is necessary. It is 
curious to observe that the most assiduous, and hitherto the most 
successful of street-traders, were supplanted, not by a more per- 
severing or more skilful body of street-sellers, but simply by a more 
starving body. 

Some few years since poor Irish people, and chiefly those con- 
nected with the culture of the land, 'came over' to this country in 
great numbers, actuated either by vague hopes of 'bettering them- 
selves' by emigration, or working on the railways, or else influenced 
by the restlessness common to an impoverished people. These men, 
when unable to obtain employment, without scruple became 
street-sellers. Not only did the adults resort to street-traffic, gener- 
ally in its simplest forms, such as hawking fruit, but the children, 
by whom they were accompanied from Ireland, in great numbers, 
were put into the trade; and if two or three children earned 2d. 
a day each, and their parents 5d. or ftd. each, or even 4d., the sub- 
sistence of the family was better than they could obtain in the midst 
of the miseries of the southern and western part of the Sister Isle. 
An Irish boy of fourteen, having to support himself by street-trade, 
as was often the case, owing to the death of parents and to divers 
casualties, would undersell the Jew boys similarly circumstanced. 

The Irish boy could live harder than the Jew — often in his own 
country he subsisted on a stolen turnip a day; he could lodge harder 
— lodge for Id. a night in any noisome den, or sleep in the open 
air, which is seldom done by the Jew boy; he could dispense with 
the use of shoes and stockings — a dispensation at which his rival in 
trade revolted; he drank only water, or if he took tea or coffee, it 
was as a meal, and not merely as a beverage; to crown the whole, 
the city-bred Jew boy required some evening recreation, the penny 
or twopenny concert, or a game at draughts or dominoes; but this 
the Irish boy, country bred, never thought of, for his sole luxury 
was a deep sleep, and, being regardless or ignorant of all such 
recreations, he worked longer hours, and so sold more oranges, 
than his Hebrew competitor. Thus, as the Minister or Connaught 

Mayhew's London 289 

lad could live on less than the young denizen of Petticoat-lane, 
he could sell at a smaller profit, and did so sell, until gradually the 
Hebrew youths were displaced by the Irish in the street orange 

It is the same, or the same in a degree, with other street-trades, 
which were at one time all but monopolised by the Jew adults. 
Among these were the street-sale of spectacles and sponges. The 
prevalence of slop-work and slop-wages, and the frequent difficulty 
of obtaining properly-remunerated employment — the pinch of 
want, in short — have driven many mechanics to street-traffic; so 
that the numbers of street-traffickers have been augmented, while 
no small portion of the new-comers have adopted the more knowing 
street avocations, formerly pursued only by the Jews. 


Fifty years ago the appearance of the street- Jews, engaged in the 
purchase of second-hand clothes, was different from what it is at the 
present time. The Jew then had far more of the distinctive garb 
and aspect of a foreigner. He not unfrequently wore the gabardine, 
which is never seen now in the streets, but some of the long loose 
frock coats worn by the Jew clothes' buyers resemble it. At that 
period, too, the Jew's long beard was far more distinctive than it 
is in this hirsute generation. 

In other respects the street-Jew is unchanged. Now, as during 
the last century, he traverses every street, square, and road, with 
the monotonous cry, sometimes like a bleat, of 'Go'! Clo' 1 ' On 
this head, however, I have previously remarked, when describing 
the street Jew of a hundred years ago. 

In an inquiry into the condition of the old-clothes dealers a year 
and a half ago, a Jew gave me the following account. He told me, 
at the commencement of his statement, that he was of opinion that 
his people were far more speculative than the Gentiles, and there- 
fore the English liked better to deal with them. 'Our people,' he 
said, 'will be out all day in the wet, and begrudge themselves a 
bit of anything to eat till they go home, and then, may be, they'll 
gamble away their crown, just for the love of speculation.' My 
informant, who could write or speak several languages, and had 
been 50 years in the business, then said, 'I am no bigot; indeed 

29 Mayliew's London 

I do not care where I buy my meat, so long as I can get it. I often 
go into the Minories and buy some, without looking to how it has 
been killed, or whether it has a seal on it or not.' 

He then gave me some account of the Jewish children, and the 
number of men in the trade, which I have embodied under the 
proper heads. The itinerant Jew clothes man, he told me, was 
generally the son of a former old-clothes man, but some were cigar- 
makers, or pencil-makers, taking to the clothes business when those 
trades were slack; but that nineteen out of twenty had been born to 
it. If the parents of the Jew boy are poor, and the boy a sharp lad, 
he generally commences business at ten years of age, by selling 
lemons, or some trifle in the streets, and so, as he expressed it, the 
boy 'gets a round,' or street connection, by becoming known to the 
neighbourhoods he visits. If he sees a servant, he will, when selling 
his lemons, ask if she have any old shoes or old clothes, and offer to 
be a purchaser. If the clothes should come to more than the Jew boy 
has in his pocket, he leaves what silver he has as 'an earnest upon 
them,' and then seeks some regular Jew clothes man, who will ad- 
vance the purchase money. This the old Jew agrees to do upon the 
understanding that he is to have 'half Kybeck,' that is, a moiety of 
the profit, and then he will accompany the boy to the house, to pass 
his judgment on the goods, and satisfy himself that the stripling 
has not made a blind bargain, an error into which he very rarely 
falls. After this he goes with the lad to Petticoat-lane, and there 
they share whatever money the clothes may bring over and above 
what has been paid for them. By such means the Jew boy gets his 
knowledge of the old-clothes business; and so quick are these lads 
generally, that in the course of two months they will acquire suffi- 
cient experience in connection with the trade to begin dealing on 
their own account. There are some, he told me, as sharp at 15 as 
men of 50. 

'It is very seldom,' my informant stated, 'very seldom indeed, 
that a Jew clothes man takes away any of the property of the house 
he may be called into. I expect there's a good many of 'em,' he 
continued, for he sometimes spoke of his co-traders, as if they were 
not of his own class, 'is fond of cheating — that is, they won't mind 
giving only 2s. for a thing that's worth 5«. They are fond of money, 
and will do almost anything to get it. Jews are perhaps the most 
money-loving people in all England. There are certainly some old 

Mayhew^s London 291 

clothes men who will buy articles at such a price that they must 
know them to have been stolen. Their rule, however, is to ask no 
questions, and to get as cheap an article as possible. A Jew clothes 
man is seldom or never seen in liquor. They gamble for money, 
either at their own homes or at public houses. The favourite games 
are tossing, dominoes, and cards. I was informed, by one of the 
people, that he had seen as much as 30Z. in silver and gold lying 
upon the ground when two parties had been playing at throwing 
three halfpence in the air. On a Saturday, some gamble away the 
morning and the greater part of the afternoon.' (Saturday, 1 need 
hardly say, is the Hebrew Sabbath.) 'They meet in some secret 
back place, about ten, and begin playing for "one a time" — that is, 
tossing up three halfpence, and staking Is. on the result. Other 
Jews, and a few Christians, will gather round and bet. Sometimes 
the bets laid by the Jew bystanders are as high as 21. each; and on 
more than one occasion the old clothes men have wagered as much 
as 5<iJ., but only after great gains at gambling. Some, if they <an, 
will cheat, by means of a halfpenny with a head or a tail on both 
sides, called a "gray." The play lasts till the Sabbath is nearly over, 
and then they go to business or the theatre. They seldom or never 
say a word while they are losing, but merely stamp on the ground; 
it is dangerous, though, to interfere when luck runs agains them. 
The rule is, when a man is losing leave him alone. I have known 
them play for three hours together, and nothing be said all that 
time but "head" or "tail." They seldom go to synagogue, and on a 
Sunday evening have card parties at their own houses. They seldom 
eat anything on their rounds. The reason is, not because they object 
to eat meat killed by a Christian, but because they are afraid of 
losing a "deal," or the chance of buying a lot of old clothes by delay. 
They are generally too lazy to light their own fires before they 
start of a morning, and nineteen out of twenty obtain their break- 
fasts at the coffee-shops about Houndsditch. 

'When they return from their day's work they have mostly some 
stew ready, prepared by their parents or wife. If they are not family 
men they go to an eating-house. This is sometimes a Jewish house, 
but if no one is looking they creep into a Christian "cook-shop," 
not being particular about eating "tryfer" — that is, meat which has 
been killed by a Christian. Those that are single generally go to a 
neighbour and agree with him to be boarded on the Sabbath; and 

292 Mayhem's London 

for this the charge is generally about 2s. 6d. On a Saturday there's 
cold fish for breakfast and supper; indeed, a Jew would pawn the 
shirt off his back sooner than go without fish then; and in holiday- 
time he ivill have it, if he has to get it out of the stones. It is not 
reckoned a holiday unless there's fish.' 

'Forty years ago I have made as much as 51. in a week by the 
purchase of old clothes in the streets,' said a Jew informant. 'Upon 
an average then, I could earn weekly about 21. But now things are 
different. People are more wide a wake. Every one knows the value 
of an old coat now-a-days. The women know more than the men. 
The general average, I think, take the good weeks with the bad 
throughout the year, is about 1/. a week; some weeks we get 21., 
and some scarcely nothing.' 

I am informed that of the Jew Old-Clothes Men there are now 
only from 500 to 600 in London; at one time there might have been 
1,000. Their average earnings may be something short of 20s. a 
week in second-hand clothes alone; but the gains are difficult to 


An elderly man, who, at the time I saw him, was vending spectacles, 
or bartering them for old clothes, old books, or any second-hand 
articles, gave me an account of his street-life, but it presented 
little remarkable beyond the not unusual vicissitudes of the lives 
of those of his class. 

He had been in every street-trade, and had on four occasions 
travelled all over England, selling quills, sealing-wax, pencils, 
sponges, braces, cheap or superior jewellery, thermometers, and 
pictures. He had sold barometers in the mountainous parts of 
Cumberland, sometimes walking for hours without seeing man or 
woman. '/ liked it then,' he said, 'for I was young and strong, and 
didn't care to sleep twice in the same toivn. I was afterwards in the 
old-clothes line. I buy a few odd hats and light things still, but I'm 
not able to carry heavy weights, as my breath is getting rather 
short.' [I find that Jews generally object to the more laborious 
kinds of street-traffic] 'Yes, I've been twice to Ireland, and sold 
a good many quills in Dublin, for I crossed over from Liverpool. 
Quills and wax were a great trade with us once; now it's quite 
different. I've had as much as C0Z. of my own, and that more than 

Mayhew^s London 29 3 

half-a-dozen times, but all of it went in speculations. Yes, some 
went in gambling. I had a share in a gaming-booth at the races, for 
three years. 0, I dare say that's more than 20 years back; but we 
did very little good. There was such fees to pay for the tent on a 
race-ground, and often such delays between the races in the differ- 
ent towns, and bribes to be given to the town-officers — such as 
town-sergeants and chief constables, and I hardly know who — and 
so many expenses altogether, that the profits were mostly swamped. 
Once at Newcastle races there was a fight among the pitmen, and 
our tent was in their way, and was demolished almost to bits. A deal 
of the money was lost or stolen. I don't know how much, but not 
near so much as my partners wanted to make out. I wasn't on the 
spot just at the time. I got married after that, and took a shop 
in the second-hand clothes line in Bristol, but my wife died in child- 
bed in less than a year, and the shop didn't answer; so I got sick of 
it and at last got rid of it. 0, I work both the country and London 
still. I shall take a turn into Kent in a day or two. I suppose I clear 
between 10-s. and 205. a week in anything, and as I've only myself, 
I do middling, and am ready for another chance if any likely 
speculation offers. I lodge with a relation, and sometimes live with 
his family. No, I never touch any meat but "Coshar." I suppose my 
meat now costs me 6d. or Id. a day, but it has cost me ten times 
that — and 2d. for beer in addition.' 

I am informed that there are about 50 adult Jews (besides old- 
clothes men) in the streets selling fruit, cakes, pencils, spectacles, 
sponge, accordions, drugs, &c. 


I have ascertained, and from sources where no ignorance on the 
subject could prevail, that there are now in the streets of London, 
rather more than 100 Jew-boys engaged principally in fruit and 
cake-selling in the streets. Very few Jewesses are itinerant street- 
sellers. Most of the older Jews thus engaged have been street-sellers 
from their boyhood. The young Jews who ply in the street-callings 
however, are all men in matters of traffic, almost before they cease, 
in years, to be children. In addition to the Jew-boy street-sellers 
above enumerated, there are from 50 to 100, but usually about 50, 
who are occasional, or 'casual' street-traders, vending for the 

294 Mayheiv's London 

most part cocoa-nuts and grapes, and confining their sales chiefly 
to the Sundays. 

I received from a Jew boy the following account of his trading 
pursuits and individual aspirations. There was somewhat of a thick- 
ness in his utterance, otherwise his speech was but little distinguish- 
able from that of an English street-boy. His physiognomy was 
decidedly Jewish, but not of the handsomer type. His hair was light 
coloured, but clean, and apparently well brushed, without being 
oiled, or, as I heard a street-boy style it, 'greased'; it was long, 
and he said his aunt told him it 'wanted cutting sadly'; but he 
'liked it that way'; indeed, he kept dashing his curls from his eyes, 
and back from his temples, as he was conversing, as if he were some- 
what vain of doing so. He was dressed in a corduroy suit, old but 
not ragged, and wore a tolerably clean, very coarse, and altogether 
buttonless shirt, which he said 'was made for one bigger than me, 
sir.' He had bought it for 9|d. in Petticoat-lane, and accounted it 
a bargain, as its wear would be durable. He was selling sponges 
when I saw him, and of the commonest kind, offering a large piece 
for 3d., which (he admitted) would be rubbed to bits in no time. 
This sponge, I should mention, is frequently 'dressed' with sulphur- 
ic acid, and an eminent surgeon informed me that on his servant 
attempting to clean his black dress coat with a sponge that he had 
newly bought in the streets, the colour of the garment, to his horror, 
changed to a bright purple. The Jew boy said — 

T believe I'm twelve. I've been to school, but it's long since, 
and my mother was very ill then, and I was forced to go out in the 
streets to have a chance. I never was kept to school. I can't read; 
I forgot all about it. I'd rather now that I could read, but very 
likely I could soon learn if I could only spare time, but if I stay 
long in the house I feel sick; it's not healthy. 0, no, sir, inside or 
out it would be all the same to me, just to make a living and keep 
my health. I can't say how long it is since I began to sell, it's a 
good long time; one must do something. I could keep myself now, 
and do sometimes, but my father — I live with him (my mother's 
dead) — is often laid up. Would you like to see him, sir? He knows a 
deal. No, he can't write, but he can read a little. Can I speak 
Hebrew? Well, I know what you mean. 0, no, I can't. I don't go 
to synagogue; I haven't time. My father goes, but only sometimes; 
so ho says, and he tells me to look out, for we must both go by-and- 

Mayhew 's London 295 

by. I buy what I eat about Petticoat-lane. No, I don't like fish, but 
the stews, and the onions with them, is beautiful for two-pence; you 
may get a pennor'th. The pickles — cowcumbers is best — are stun- 
ning. But they're plummiest with a bit of cheese or anything cold — 
that's my opinion, but you may think different. Pork! Ah! No, I 
never touched it; I'd as soon eat a cat; so would my father. No, sir, 
I don't think pork smells nice in a cook-shop, but some Jew boys, 
as I knows, thinks it does. I don't know why it shouldn't be eaten, 
only that it's wrong to eat it. No, I never touched a ham-sandwich, 
but other Jew boys have, and laughed at it, I know. 

'I don't know what I make in a week. I think I make as much 
on one thing as on another. I've sold strawberries, and cherries, 
and gooseberries, and nuts and walnuts in the season. O, as to what 
I make, that's nothing to nobody. Sometimes Qd. a day, sometimes 
Is.; sometimes a little more, and sometimes nothing. No, I never 
sells inferior things if I can help it, but if one hasn't stock-money 
one must do as one can, but it isn't so easy to try it on. There was a 
boy beaten by a woman not long since for selling a big pottle of 
strawberries that was rubbish all under the toppers. It was all 
strawberry leaves, and crushed strawberries, and such like. She 
wanted to take back from him the two-pence she'd paid for it, 
and got hold of his pockets and there was a regular fight, but she 
didn't get a farthing back though she tried her very hardest, 'cause 
he slipped from her and hooked it. So you see it's dangerous to 
try it on.' [This last remark was made gravely enough, but the lad 
told of the feat with such manifest glee, that I'm inclined to believe 
that he himself was the culprit in question.] 'Yes, it was a Jew boy 
it happened to, but other boys in the streets is just the same. Do I 
like the streets? I can't say I do, there's too little to be made in 
them. No, I wouldn't like to go to school, nor to be in a shop, nor be any- 
body 's servant but my own. 0, I don't know what I shall be when I'm 
grown up. I shall take my chance like others.' 


To speak of the street Jew-boys as regards their traffic, manners, 
haunts, and associations, is to speak of the same class (if hoys who 
may not be employed regularly in streot-sale, but are the comrades 

296 Mayhem's London 

of those who are; a class, who, on any cessation of their employment 
in cigar manufactories, or indeed any capacity, will apply them- 
selves temporarily to street -selling, for it seems to these poor and 
uneducated lads a sort of natural vocation. 

These youths, uncontrolled or uncontrollable by their parents (who 
are of the lowest class of the Jews, and who often, I am told, care 
little about the matter, so long as the child can earn his own main- 
tenance), frequently in the evenings, after their day's work, resort 
to coffee-shops, in preference even to a cheap concert-room. In 
these places they amuse themselves as men might do in a tavern 
where the landlord leaves his guests to their own caprices. Some- 
times one of them reads aloud from some exciting or degrading 
book, the lads who are unable to read listening with all the intent- 
ness with which many of the uneducated attend to anyone reading. 
The reading is, however, not unfrequently interrupted by rude 
comments from the listeners. If a newspaper be read, the 'police,' 
or 'crimes,' are mostly the parts preferred. But the most approved 
way of passing the evening, among the Jew boys, is to play at 
draughts, dominoes, or cribbage, and to bet on the play. Draughts 
and dominoes are unpractised among the costermonger boys, but 
some of the young Jews are adepts in these games. 

The dwellings of boys such as these are among the worst in 
London, as regards ventilation, comfort, or cleanliness. They reside 
in the courts and recesses about Whitechapel and Petticoat-lane, 
and generally in a garret. If not orphans they usually dwell with 
their father. I am told that the care of a mother is almost in- 
dispensable to a poor Jew boy, and having that care he seldom 
becomes an outcast. The Jewesses and Jew girls are rarely itinerant 
street-sellers — not in the proportion of one to twelve, compared 
with the men and boys; in this respect therefore the street Jews 
differ widely from the English costermongers and the street Irish, 
nor are the Hebrew females even stall-keepers in the same propor- 

One Jew boy's lodging which I visited was in a back garret, low 
and small. The boy lived with his father (a street-seller of fruit), 
and the room was very bare. A few sacks were thrown over an old 
palliass, a blanket seemed to be used for a quilt; there were no fire- 
irons nor fender; no cooking utensils. Beside the bed was an old 
chest, serving for a chair, while a board resting on a trestle did duty 

Mayhem's London 297 

for a table (this was once, I presume, a small street-stall). The one 
not very large window was thick with dirt and patched all over. 
Altogether I have seldom seen a more wretched apartment. The 
man, I was told, was addicted to drinking. 

The callings of which the Jew boys have the monopoly are not 
connected with the sale of any especial article, but rather with 
such things as present a variety from those ordinarily offered in the 
streets, such as cakes, sweetmeats, fried fish, and (in the winter) 
alder wine. The cakes known as 'boolers' — a mixture of egg, flour, 
and candied orange or lemon peel, cut very thin, and with a slight 
colouring from saffron or something similar — are now sold princi- 
pally, and used to be sold exclusively, by the Jew boys. Almond 
cakes (little round cakes of crushed almonds) are at present vended 
by the Jew boys, and their sponge biscuits are in demand. All these 
dainties are bought by the streetdads of the Jew pastry-cooks. The 
difference in these cakes, in their sweetmeats, and their elder wine, 
is that there is a dash of spice about them not ordinarily met with. 
It is the same with the fried fish, a little spice or pepper being 
blended with the oil. In the street-sale of pickles the Jews have also 
the monopoly; these, however, are seldom hawked, but generally 
sold from windows and door-steads. The pickles are cucumbers or 
gherkins, and onions — a large cucumber being 2d., and the smaller 
Id. and \d. 



I have mentioned that the Jewesses and the young Jew girls, 
compared with the adult Jews and Jew boys, are not street-traders 
in anything like the proportion which the females were found to 
bear to the males among the Irish street-folk and the English 
costermongers. There are, however, a few Jewish females who are 
itinerant street-sellers as well as stall keepers, in the proportion, 
perhaps, of one female to seven or eight males. The majority of the 
street Jew-girls whom I saw on a round were accompanied by boys 
who were represented to be their brothers, and I have little douU 
such were the facts, for these young Jewesses, although often perl 
and ignorant, are not unchaste. Of this I was assured by a medical 
gentleman who could speak with sufficient positiveness on the 

29 8 Mayhew^s London 

Fruit is generally sold by these boys and girls together, the lad 
driving the barrow, and the girl inviting custom and handing the 
purchases to the buyers. In tending a little stall or a basket at a 
regular pitch, with such things as cherries or strawberries, the little 
Jewess differs only from her street-selling sisters in being a brisker 
trader. The stalls, with a few old knives or scissors, or odds and ends 
of laces, that are tended by the Jew girls in the streets in the Jewish 
quarters (I am told there are not above a dozen of them) are 
generally near the shops and within sight of their parents or friends. 
One little Jewess, with whom I had some conversation, had not 
even heard the name of the Chief Rabbi, the Rev. Dr. Adler, and 
knew nothing of any distinction between German and Portuguese 
Jews; she had, I am inclined to believe, never heard of either. I am 
told that the whole, or nearly the whole, of these young female 
traders reside with parents or friends, and that there is among them 
far less than the average number of runaways. One Jew told me 
he thought that the young female members of his tribe did not 
tramp with the juveniles of the other sex — no, not in the proportion 
of one to a hundred in comparison, he said with a laugh, with 
'young women of the Christian persuasion.' My informant had 
means of knowing this fact, as although still a young man, he had 
traversed the greater part of England hawking perfumery, which 
he had abandoned as a bad trade. A wire-worker, long familiar 
with tramping and going into the country — a man upon whose 
word I have every reason to rely — told me that he could not remem- 
ber a single instance of his having seen a young Jewess 'travelling' 
with a boy. 


These men, for by far the great majority are men, may be divided, 
according to the nature of their occupations, into three classes: — 

1. The bone-grubbers and rag-gatherers, who are, indeed, the 
same individuals, the pure-finders, and the cigar-end and old wood 

2. The dredgermen, the mud-larks, and the sewer-hunters. 

3. The dustmen and nightmen, the sweeps and the scavengers. 
The first class go abroad daily to find in the streets, and carry 

away with them such things as bones, rags, 'pure' (or dogs'-dung), 

Mayhew^s London 299 

which no one appropriates. These they sell, and on that sale support 
a wretched life. The second class of people are also as strictly find- 
ers; but their industry, or rather their labour, is confined to the 
river, or to that subterranean city of sewerage unto which the 
Thames supplies the great outlets. These persons may not be im- 
mediately connected with the streets of London, but their pursuits 
are carried on in the open air (if the sewer-air may be so included), 
and are all, at any rate, out-of-door avocations. The third class is 
distinct from either of these, as the labourers comprised in it are 
not finders, but collectors or removers of the dirt and filth of our 
streets and houses, and of the soot of our chimneys. 

The bone-grubber and the mud-lark (the searcher for refuse on 
the banks of the river) differ little in their pursuits or in their 
characteristics, excepting that the mud-larks are generally boys, 
which is more an accidental than a definite distinction. The grub- 
bers are with a few exceptions stupid, unconscious of their degrada- 
tion, and with little anxiet}' to be relieved from it. They are usually 
taciturn, but this taciturn habit is common to men whose callings, 
if they cannot be called solitary, are pursued with little communi- 
cation with others. I was informed by a man who once kept a little 
beer-shop near Friar-street, Southwark Bridge-road (where then 
and still, he thought, was a bone-grinding establishment), that the 
bone-grubbers who carried their sacks of bones thither sometimes 
had a pint of beer at his house when they had received their money. 
They usually sat, he told me, silently looking at the corners of the 
floor — for they rarely lifted their eyes up — as if they were expect- 
ing to see some bones or refuse there available for their bags. Of this 
inertion, perhaps fatigue and despair may be a part. I asked some 
questions of a man of this class whom I saw pick up in a road in 
the suburbs something that appeared to have been a coarse canvas 
apron, although it was wet after a night's rain and half covered 
with mud. I inquired what he thought about when he trudged 
along looking on the ground on every side. His answer was, 'Of 
nothing, sir.' I believe that no better description could be given of 
that vacuity of mind or mental inactivity which seems to form a 
part of the most degraded callings. The minds of such men, even 
without an approach to idiocy, appear to be a blank. One cnarae- 
teristic of these poor fellows, bone-grubbers and mud-larks, is that 
they are very poor, although I am told some of them, the oldor 

300 Mayhem's London 

men, have among the poor the reputation of being misers. It is 
not unusual for the youths belonging to these callings to live with 
their parents and give them the amount of their earnings. 

The sewer-hunters are again distinct, and a far more intelligent 
and adventurous class; but they work in gangs. They must be 
familiar with the course of the tides, or they might be drowned at 
high water. They must have quick eyes too, not merely to descry 
the objects of their search, but to mark the points and bearings of 
the subterraneous roads they traverse; in a word, 'to know their 
way underground.' There is, moreover, some spirit of daring in 
venturing into a dark, solitary sewer, the chart being only in the 
memory, and in braving the possibility of noxious vapours, and 
the by no means insignificant dangers of the rats infesting these 

The dredgermen, the finders of the water, are again distinct, as 
being watermen, and working in boats. 

Every one of these men works on his own account, being a 'small 
master,' which is one of the great attractions of open-air pursuits. 
The dredgermen also depend for their maintenance upon the sale 
of what they find, or the rewards they receive. 

It is otherwise, however, as was before observed, with the third 
class of the street-finders, or rather collectors. In all the capacities 
of dustmen, nightmen, scavengers, and sweeps, the employers of 
the men are paid to do the work, the proceeds of the street-collec- 
tion forming only a portion of the employer's remuneration. The 
sweep has the soot in addition to his Qd. or Is; the master scavenger 
has a payment from the parish funds to sweep the streets, though 
the clearance of the cesspools, &c, in private houses, may be an in- 
dividual bargain. The whole refuse of the streets belongs to the 
contractor to make the best of, but it must be cleared away, and so 
must the contents of a dust-bin; for if a mass of dirt become offen- 
sive, the householder may be indicted for a nuisance, and municipal 
by-laws require its removal. It is thus made a matter of compulsion 
that the dust be removed from a private house; but it is otherwise 
with the soot. Why a man should be permitted to let soot accumu- 
late in his chimney — perhaps exposing himself, his family, and his 
lodgers to the dangers of fire, it may not be easy to account for, 
especially when we bear in mind that the same man may not 
accumulate cabbage-leaves and fish-tails in his yard. 

M ay hew' s London 301 

The dustmen are of the plodding class of labourers, mere labour- 
ers, who require only bodily power, and possess little or no mental 
development. Many of the agricultural labourers are of this order, 
and the dustman often seems to be the stolid ploughman, modified 
by a residence in a city, and engaged in a peculiar calling. They 
are generally uninformed, and no few of them are dustmen because 
their fathers were. The same may be said of nightmen and scaven- 
gers. At one time it was a popular, or rather a vulgar notion that 
many dustmen had become possessed of large sums, from the plate, 
coins, and valuables thev found in clearing the dust-bins — a mani- 
fest absurdity; but I was told by a marine-store dealer that he had 
known a young woman, a dustman's daughter, sell silver spoons 
to a neighbouring marine-store man, who was 'not very particular.' 


The habits of the bone-grubbers and rag-gatherers, the 'pure,' 
or dogs'-dung collectors, and the cigar-end finders, are necessarily 
similar. All lead a wandering, unsettled sort of life, being compelled 
to be continually on foot, and to travel many miles every day in 
search of the articles in which they deal. They seldom have any 
fixed place of abode, and are mostly to be found at night in one or 
other of the low lodging-houses throughout London. The majority 
are, moreover, persons who have been brought up to other employ- 
ments, but who for some failing or mishap have been reduced to 
such a state of distress that they were obliged to take to their pres- 
ent occupation, and have never after been able to get away from it. 

Of the whole class it is considered that there are from 800 to 
1,000 resident in London, one-half of whom, at the least, sleep in 
the cheap lodging-houses. 

Moreover there are in London during the winter a number of 
persons called 'trampers,' who employ themselves at that season 
in street-finding. These people are in the summer country labourers 
of some sort, but as soon as the harvest and potato-getting and hop- 
picking are over, and they can find nothing else to do in the country, 
they come back to London to avail themselves of the shelter of the 
night asylums or refuges for the destitute (usually called 'straw- 
yards' by the poor). As soon as the 'straw -yards' close, which is 
generally about the beginning of April, the 'trampers' again start 

302 Mayhem's London 

off to the country in small bands of two or three, and without any 
fixed residence keep wandering about all the summer, sometimes 
begging their way through the villages and sleeping in the casual 
wards of the unions, and sometimes, when hard driven, working 
at hay- making or any other light labour. 

Those among the bone-grubbers who do not belong to the regular 
'trampers' have been either navvies, or men who have not been 
able to obtain employment at their own business, and have been 
driven to it by necessity as a means of obtaining a little bread for 
the time being, and without any intention of pursuing the calling 
regularly; but, as I have said, when once in the business they cannot 
leave it, for at least they make certain of getting a few halfpence 
by it, and their present necessity does not allow them time to look 
after other employment. 

The bone-picker and rag-gatherer may be known at once by the 
greasy bag which he carries on his back. Usually he has a stick in 
his hand, and this is armed with a spike or hook, for the purpose 
of more easily turning over the heaps of ashes or dirt that are 
thrown out of the houses, and discovering whether they contain 
anything that is saleable at the rag-and-bottle or marine-store 
shop. The bone-grubber generally seeks out the narrow back streets, 
where dust and refuse are cast, or where any dust-bins are accessi- 
ble. The articles for which he chiefly searches are rags and bones — 
rags he prefers — but waste metal, such as bits of lead, pewter, cop- 
per, brass, or old iron, he prizes above all. Whatever he meets with 
that he knows to be in any way saleable he puts into the bag at his 
back. He often finds large lumps of bread which have been thrown 
out as waste by the servants, and occasionally the house-keepers 
will give him some bones on which there is a little meat remaining; 
these constitute the morning meal of most of the class. One of my 
informants had a large rump of beef given to him a few days pre- 
vious to my seeing him, on which 'there was not less than a pound 
of meat.' 

The bone-pickers and rag-gatherers are all early risers. They 
have all their separate beats or districts, and it is most important 
to them that they should reach their district before any one else of 
the same class can go over the ground. Some of the beats lie as far 
as Peckham, Clapham, Hammersmith, Hampstead, Bow, Strat- 
ford, and indeed all parts within about five miles of London. In 

31 ay hew' s London 30 3 

summer time they rise at two in the morning, and sometimes earlier. 
It is not quite light at this hour — but bones and rags can be dis- 
covered before daybreak. The 'grubbers' scour all quarters of 
London, but abound more particularly in the suburbs. In the 
neighbourhood of Petticoat-lane and Ragfair, however, they are 
the most numerous on account of the greater quantity of rags 
which the Jews have to throw out. It usually takes the bone-picker 
from seven to nine hours to go over his rounds, during which time 
he travels from 20 to 30 miles with a quarter to a half hundred- 
weight on his back. In the summer he usually reaches home about 
eleven of the day, and in the winter about one or two. On his return 
home he proceeds to sort the contents of his bag. He separates the 
rags from the bones, and these again from the old metal (if he be 
lucky enough to have found any). He divides the rags into various 
lots, according as they are white or coloured; and if he have picked 
up any pieces of canvas or sacking, he makes these also into a sepa- 
rate parcel. When he has finished the sorting he takes his several 
lots to the rag-shop or the marine-store dealer, and realizes upon 
them whatever they may be worth. For the white rags he gets from 
2d. to 3d. per pound, according as they are cleaned or soiled. The 
white rags are very difficult to be found; they are mostly very dirty, 
and are therefore sold with the coloured ones at the rate of about 
5 lbs. for 2d. The bones are usually sold with the coloured rags at 
one and the same price. For fragments of canvas or sacking the 
grubber gets about three-farthings a pound; and old brass, copper, 
and pewter about 4d. (the marine-store keepers say 5d.), and old 
iron one farthing per pound, or six pounds for Id. The bone-grubber 
thinks he has done an excellent day's work if he can earn Sd.; and 
some of them, especially the very old and the very young, do not 
earn more than from 2d. to 3d. a day. To make lOd. a day, at the 
present price of rags and bones, a man must be remarkably active 
and strong, — 'ay! and lucky, too,' adds my informant. The average 
amount of earnings, I am told, varies from about 6d. to 8d. per 
day, or from 3s. to 4s. a week; and the highest amount that a man, 
the most brisk and persevering at the business, can by any possibil- 
ity earn in one week is about 5-s., but this can only be accomplished 
by great good fortune and industry — the usual weekly gains arc 
about half that sum. In bad weather the bone-grubber cannot do so 
well, because the rags are wet, and then they cannot sell them. The 

304 Mayhew^s London 

majority pick up bones only in wet weather; those who do gather 
rags during or after rain are obliged to wash and dry them before 
they can sell them. The state of the shoes of the rag and bone- 
picker is a very important matter to him; for if he be well shod he 
can get quickly over the ground; but he is frequently lamed, and 
unable to make any progress from the blisters and gashes on his 
feet, occasioned by the want of proper shoes. 

Sometimes the bone-grubbers will pick up a stray sixpence or a 
shilling that has been dropped in the street. 'The handkerchief I 
have round my neck,' said one whom I saw, T picked up with 
Is. in the corner. The greatest prize I ever found was the brass cap 
of the nave of a coach-wheel; and I did once find a quarter of a 
pound of tobacco in Sun-street, Bishopsgate. The best bit of luck 
of all that I ever had was finding a cheque for 121. 15s. lying in the 
gateway of the mourning-coach yard in Titchborne-street, Hay- 
market. I was going to light my pipe with it, indeed I picked it up 
for that purpose, and then saw it was a cheque. It was on the 
London and County Bank, 21, Lombard-street. I took it there, and 
got 10s. for finding it. I went there in my rags, as I am now, and 
the cashier stared a bit at me. The cheque was drawn by a Mr. 
Knibb, and payable to a Mr. Cox. I did think I should have got 
the odd 15s. though.' 

It has been stated that the average amount of the earnings of 
the bone-pickers is 6d. per day, or 3s. per week, being 11. 16s. per 
annum for each person. It has also been shown that the number 
of persons engaged in the business may be estimated at about 800; 
hence the earnings of the entire number will amount to the sum of 
20J. per day, or 120/. per week, which gives 6,240J. as the annual 
earnings of the bone-pickers and rag-gatherers of London. It may 
also be computed that each of the grubbers gathers on an average 
20 lbs. weight of bone and rags; and reckoning the bones to con- 
stitute three-fourths of the entire weight, we thus find that the 
gross quantity of these articles gathered by the street-finders in the 
course of the year, amounts to 3,744,000 lbs. of bones, and 1,240,000 
lbs. of rags. 

Between the London and St. Katherine's Docks and Rosemary 
Lane, there is a large district interlaced with narrow lanes, courts, 
and alleys ramifying into each other in the most intricate and dis- 
orderly manner, insomuch that it would be no easy matter for a 

Mayhew''s London 305 

stranger to work his way through the interminable confusion 
without the aid of a guide, resident in and well conversant with the 
locality. The houses are of the poorest description, and seem as if 
they tumbled into their places at random. Foul channels, huge 
dust-heaps, and a variety of other unsightly objects, occupy every 
open space, and dabbling among these are crowds of ragged dirty 
children who grub and wallow, as if in their native element. None 
reside in these places but the poorest and most wretched of the 
population, and, as might almost be expected, this, the cheapest 
and filthiest locality of London, is the head-quarters of the bone- 
grubbers and other street-finders. I have ascertained on the best 
authority, that from the centre of this place, within a circle of a 
mile in diameter, there dwell not less than 200 persons of this 

To show how bone-grubbers occasionally manage to obtain 
shelter during the night, the following incident may not be out of 
place. A few mornings past I accidentally encountered one of this 
class in a narrow back lane; his ragged coat — the colour of the 
rubbish among which he toiled — was greased over, probably with 
the fat of the bones he gathered, and being mixed with the dust it 
seemed as if the man were covered with bird-lime. His shoes — torn 
and tied on his feet with pieces of cord — had doubtlessly been 
picked out of some dust-bin, while his greasy bag and stick unmis- 
takably announced his calling. Desirous of obtaining all the infor- 
mation possible on this subject, I asked him a few questions, took 
his address, which he gave without hesitation, and bade him call 
on me in the evening. At the time appointed, however, he did not 
appear; on the following day therefore I made my way to the 
address he had given, and on reaching the spot I was astonished to 
find the house in which he had said he lived was uninhabited. 
A padlock was on the door, the boards of which were parting with 
age. There was not a whole pane of glass in any of the windows, 
and the frames <jf many of them were shattered or demolished. 
Some persons in the neighbourhood, noticing me eyeing the place, 
asked whom I wanted. On my telling the man's name, which it 
appeared he had not dreamt of disguising, I was informed that he 
had left the day 'tefore, saying he had met the landlord in the 
morning (for such it turned out lie had fancied me to be), and 
that the gentleman had wanted him to come to his house, but he 

306 Mayhem's London 

was afraid to go lest he should be sent to prison for breaking into 
the place. I found, on inspection, that the premises, though locked 
up, could be entered by the rear, one of the window-frames having 
been removed, so that admission could be obtained through the 
aperture. Availing myself of the same mode of ingress, I proceeded 
to examine the premises. Nothing could well be more dismal or 
dreary than the interior. The floors were rotting with damp and 
mildew, especially near the windows, where the wet found easy 
entrance. The walls were even slimy and discoloured, and every- 
thing bore the appearance of desolation. In one corner was strewn 
a bundle of dirty straw, which doubtlessly had served the bone- 
grubber for a bed, while scattered about the floor were pieces of 
bones, and small fragments of dirty rags, sufficient to indicate the 
calling of the late inmate. He had had but little difficulty in remov- 
ing his property, seeing that it consisted solely of his bag and his 


Dogs'-dung is called 'Pure,' from its cleansing and purifying 

The name of 'Pure-finders,' however, has been applied to the 
men engaged in collecting dogs'-dung from the public streets only, 
within the last 20 or 30 years. Previous to this period there appears 
to have been no men engaged in the business, old women alone 
gathered the substance, and they were known by the name of 
'bunters,' which signifies properly gatherers of rags; and thus 
plainly intimates that the rag-gatherers originally added the 
collecting of 'Pure' to their original and proper vocation. Hence 
it appears that the bone-grubbers, rag-gatherers, and pure-finders, 
constituted formerly but one class of people, and even now they 
have, as I have stated, kindred characteristics. 

The pure-finders meet with a ready market for all the dogs'- 
dung they are able to collect, at the numerous tanyards in Ber- 
mondsey, where they sell it by the stable-bucket full, and get from 
Sd. to lOd. per bucket, and sometimes Is. and Is. 2d. for it, accord- 
ing to its quality. The 'dry limy-looking sort' fetches the highest 
price at some yards, as it is found to possess more of the alkaline, or 
purifying properties; but others are found to prefer the dark moist 
quality. Strange as it may appear, the preference for a particular 

Mayhew^s London 30 7 

kind has suggested to the finders of Pure the idea of adulterating it 
to a very considerable extent; this is effected by means of mortar 
broken away from old walls, and mixed up with the whole mass, 
which it closely resembles; in some cases, however, the mortar is 
rolled into small balls similar to those found. Hence it would 
appear, that there is no business or trade, however insignificant 
or contemptible, without its own peculiar and appropriate tricks. 

The pure-finders are in their habits and mode of proceeding 
nearly similar to the bone-grubbers. Many of the pure-finders are, 
however, better in circumstances, the men especially, as they earn 
more money. They are also, to a certain extent, a better educated 
class. Some of the regular collectors of this substance have been 
mechanics, and others small tradesmen, who have been reduced. 
Those pure-finders who have 'a good connection,' and have been 
granted permission to cleanse some kennels, obtain a very fair living 
at the business, earning from 10.S. to 15s. a week. These, however, 
are very few; the majority have to seek the article in the streets, 
and by such means they can obtain only from 6s. to 10\s. a week. 
The average weekly earnings of this class are thought to be about 
Is. Qd. 

From all the inquiries I have made on this subject, I have found 
that there cannot be less than from 200 to 300 persons constantly 
engaged solely in this business. There are about 30 tanyards large 
and small in Bermondsey, and these all have their regular pure 
collectors from whom they obtain the article. Leomont and 
Roberts's, Bavingtons', Beech's, Murrell's, Cheeseman's, Powell's, 
Jones's, Jourdan's, Kent's, Moorcroft's, and Davis's, are among 
the largest establishments, and some idea of the amount of business 
done in some of these yards may be formed from the fact, that the 
proprietors severally employ from 300 to 500 tanners. At Leomont 
and Roberts's there are 23 regular street-finders, who supply them 
with pure, but this is a large establishment, and the number supply- 
ing them is considered far beyond the average quantity; moreover, 
Messrs. Leomont and Roberts do more business in the particular 
branch of tanning in which the article is principally used, viz., in 
dressing the leather for book-covers, kid-gloves, and a variety of 
other articles. Some of the other tanyards, especially the smaller 
ones, take the substance only as they happen to want it, and others 
again employ but a limited number of hands. If, therefore, we strike 

308 Mayhew's London 

an average, and reduce the number supplying each of the several 
yards to eight, we shall have 240 persons regularly engaged in the 
business: besides these, it may be said that numbers of the starving 
and destitute Irish have taken to picking up the material, but not 
knowing where to sell it, or how to dispose of it, they part with it 
for 2d. or 3d. the pail-full to the regular purveyors of it to the tan- 
yards, who of course make a considerable profit by the transaction. 
The children of the poor Irish are usually employed in this manner, 
but they also pick up rags and bones, and anything else which may 
fall in their way. 

I have stated that some of the pure-finders, especially the men, 
earn a considerable sum of money per week; their gains are some- 
times as much as 15s.; indeed I am assured that seven years ago, 
when they got from 3s. to 4s. per pail for the pure, that many of 
them would not exchange their position with that of the best paid 
mechanic in London. Now, however, the case is altered, for there 
are twenty now at the business for every one who followed it then; 
hence each collects so much the less in quantity, and, moreover, 
from the competition gets so much less for the article. Some of the 
collectors at present do not earn 3s. per week, but these are mostly 
old women who are feeble and unable to get over the ground 
quickly; others make 5s. and 6s. in the course of the week, while 
the most active and those who clean out the kennels of the dog 
fanciers may occasionally make 9s. and 10s. and even 15s. a week 
still, but this is of very rare occurrence. Allowing the finders, one 
with the other, to earn on an average 5s. per week, it would give 
the annual earnings of each to be 131., while the income of the 
whole 200 would amount to 50Z. a week, or 2,600/. per annum. 
The kennel 'pure' is not much valued, indeed many of the tanners 
will not even buy it, the reason is that the dogs of the 'fanciers' 
are fed on almost anything, to save expense; the kennel cleaners 
consequently take the precaution of mixing it with what is found 
in the street, previous to offering it for sale. 

The pure-finder may at once be distinguished from the bone- 
grubber and rag-gatherer; the latter, as I have before mentioned, 
carries a bag, and usually a stick armed with a spike, while he is 
most frequently to be met with in back streets, narrow lanes, yards 
and other places, where dust and rubbish are likely to be thrown out 
from the adjacent houses. The pure-finder, on the contrary, is often 

Mayhew's London 309 

found in the open streets, as dogs wander where they like. The pure- 
finders always carry a handle basket, generally with a cover, to 
hide the contents, and have their right hand covered with a black 
leather glove; many of them, however, dispense with the glove, as 
they say it is much easier to wash their hands than to keep the 
glove fit for use. The women generally have a large pocket for the 
reception of such rags as they may chance to fall in with, but they 
pick up those only of the very best quality, and will not go out of 
their way to search even for them. Thus equipped they may be 
seen pursuing their avocation in almost every street in and about 
London, excepting such streets as are now cleansed by the 'street 
orderlies,' of whom the pure-finders grievously complain, as being 
an unwarrantable interference with the privileges of their class. 

The pure collected is used by leather-dressers and tanners, and 
more especially by those engaged in the manufacture of morocco 
and kid leather from the skins of old and young goats, of which 
skins great numbers are imported, and of the roans and lambskins 
which are the sham morocco and kids of the 'slop' leather trade, 
and are used by the better class of shoemakers, book-binders, and 
glovers, for the inferior requirements of their business. Pure is also 
used by the tanners, as is pigeon's dung, for the tanning of the 
thinner kinds of leather, such as calf-skins, for which purpose it is 
placed in pits with an admixture of lime and bark. 

In the manufacture of moroccos and roans the pure is rubbed 
by the hands of the workman into the skin he is dressing. This is 
done to 'purify' the leather, I was told by an intelligent leather- 
dresser, and from that term the word 'pure' has originated. The 
dung has astringent as well as highly alkaline, or, to use the expres- 
sion of my informant, 'scouring,' qualities. When the pure has been 
rubbed into the flesh and grain of the skin (the 'flesh' being 
originally the interior, and the 'grain' the exterior part of the 
cuticle), and the skin, thus purified, has been hung up to be dried, 
the dung removes, as is were, all such moisture as, if allowed to 
remain, would tend to make the leather unsound or imperfectly 
dressed. This imperfect dressing, moreover, gives a disagreeable 
6mell to the leather — and leather-buyers often use both nose and 
tongue in making their purchases — and would consequently pre- 
vent that agreeable odour being imparted to the skin which is found 
in some kinds of morocco and kid. The peculiar odour of the Russia 

310 Mayhew's London 

leather, so agreeable in the libraries of the rich, is derived from the 
bark of young birch trees. It is now manufactured in Bermondsey. 

Among the morocco manufacturers, especially among the old 
operatives, there is often a scarcity of employment, and they then 
dress a few roans, which they hawk to the cheap warehouses, or 
sell to the wholesale shoemakers on their own account. These men 
usually reside in small garrets in the poorer parts of Bermondsey, 
and carry on their trade in their own rooms, using and keeping the 
pure there; hence the 'homes' of these poor men are peculiarly 
uncomfortable, if not unhealthy. Some of these poor fellows or 
their wives collect the pure themselves, often starting at daylight 
for the purpose; they more frequently, however, buy it of a regular 

The number of pure-finders I heard estimated, by a man well 
acquainted with the tanning and other departments of the leather 
trade, at from 200 to 250. The finders, I was informed by the same 
person, collected about a pail-full a day, clearing 6s. a week in the 
summer — Is. and Is. 2c?. being the charge for a pail-full; in the 
short days of winter, however, and in bad weather, they could not 
collect five pail-fulls in a week. 

In the wretched locality already referred to as lying between the 
Docks and Rosemary-lane, redolent of filth and pregnant with 
pestilential diseases, and whither all the outcasts of the metropol- 
itan population seem to be drawn, either in the hope of finding fit- 
ting associates and companions in their -wretchedness (for there is 
doubtlessly something attractive and agreeable to them in such 
companionship), or else for the purpose of hiding themselves and 
their shifts and struggles for existence from the world, — in this 
dismal quarter, and branching from one of the many narrow lanes 
which interlace it, there is a little court with about half-a-dozen 
houses of the very smallest dimensions, consisting of merely two 
rooms, one over the other. Here in one of the upper rooms (the 
lower one of the same house being occupied by another family and 
apparently filled with little ragged children), I discerned, after 
considerable difficulty, an old woman, a pure-finder. When I 
opened the door the little light that struggled through the small 
window, the many broken panes of which were stuffed with old rags, 
was not sufficient to enable me to perceive who or what was in the 
room. After a short time, however, I began to make out an old chair 

Mayheufs London 3 1 1 

standing near the fire-place, and then to discover a poor old woman 
resembling a bundle of rags and filth stretched on some dirty straw 
in the corner of the apartment. The place was bare and almost 
naked. There was nothing in it except a couple of old tin kettles 
and a basket, and some broken crockeryware in the recess of the 
window. To my astonishment I found this wretched creature to 
be, to a certain extent, a "superior' woman; she could read and 
write well, spoke correctly, and appeared to have been a person of 
natural good sense, though broken up with age, want, and infirmity, 
so that she was characterized by all that dull and hardened stupid- 
ity of manner which I have noticed in the class. She made the 
following statement: — 

T am about 60 years of age. My father was a milkman, and very 
well off; he had a barn and a great many cows. I was kept at school 
till I was thirteen or fourteen years of age; about that time my 
father died, and then I was taken home to help my mother in the 
business. After a while things went wrong; the cows began to die, 
and mother, alleging she could not manage the business herself, 
married again. I soon found out the difference. Glad to get away, 
anywhere out of the house, I married a sailor, and was very com- 
fortable with him for some years; as he made short voyages, and 
was often at home, and always left me half his pay. At last he was 
pressed, when at home with me, and sent away; I forget now where 
he was sent to, but I never saw him from that day to this. The only 
thing I know is that some sailors came to me four or five years after, 
and told me that he deserted from the ship in which he had gone 
out, and got on board the Neptu?ie, East Indiaman, bound for 
Bombay, where he had acted as boatswain's mate; some little time 
afterwards, he had got intoxicated while the ship was lying in har- 
bour, and, going down the side to get into a bumboat, and buy more 
drink, he had fallen overboard and was drowned. I got some money 
that was due to him from the India House, and, after that was all 
gone, I went into service, in the Mile-end Road. There I stayed for 
several vears, till I met mv second husband, who was bred to the 
water, too, but as a waterman on the river. We did very well to- 
gether for a long time, till he lost his health. He became paralyzed 
like, and was deprived of the use of all one side, and nearly lost the 
sight of one of his eyes; this was not very conspicuous at first, but 
when we came to get pinched, and to be badly off, then any one 

312 Mayhew's London 

might have seen that there was something the matter with his 
eye. Then we parted with everything we had in the world; and, 
at last, when we had no other means of living left, we were advised 
to take to gathering "pure." At first I couldn't endure the business; 
I couldn't bear to eat a morsel, and I was obliged to discontinue it 
for a long time. My husband kept at it though, for he could do that 
well enough, only he couldn't walk as fast as he ought. He couldn't 
lift his hands as high as his head, but he managed to work under 
him, and so put the Pure in the basket. When I saw that he, poor 
fellow, couldn't make enough to keep us both, I took heart and 
went out again, and used to gather more than he did; that's fifteen 
years ago now; the times were good then, and we used to do very 
well. If we only gathered a pail-full in the day, we could live very 
well; but we could do much more than that, for there wasn't near 
so many at the business then, and the pure was easier to be had. 
For my part I can't tell where all the poor creatures have come 
from of late years; the world seems growing worse and worse every 
day. They have pulled down the price of pure, that's certain; but 
the poor things must do something, they can't starve while there's 
anything to be got. Why, no later than six or seven years ago, it 
was as high as 3s. 6d. and 4s. a pail-full, and a ready sale for as 
much of it as you could get; but now you can only get Is. and in 
some places Is. 2d. a pail-full; and, as I said before, there are so 
many at it, that there is not much left for a poor old creature like 
me to find. The men that are strong and smart get the most, of 
course, and some of them do very well, at least they manage to live. 
Six years ago, my husband complained that he was ill, in the even- 
ing, and lay down in the bed — we lived in Whitechapel then — he 
took a fit of coughing, and was smothered in his own blood. dear' 
(the poor old soul here ejaculated), 'what troubles I have gone 
through! I had eight children at one time, and there is not one of 
them alive now. My daughter lived to 30 years of age, and then she 
died in childbirth, and, since then, I have had nobody in the wide 
world to care for me — none but n^self, all alone as I am. After my 
husband's death I couldn't do much, and all my things went away, 
one by one, until I've nothing but bare walls, and that's the reason 
why I was vexed at first at your coming in, sir. I was yesterday out 
all day, and went round Aldgate, Whitechapel, St. George's East, 
Stepney, Bow, and Bromley, and then came home; after that, I 

M ay hew' s London 313 

went over to Bermondsey, and there I got only 6c?. for my pains. 
To-day I wasn't out at all; I wasn't well; I had a bad headache, 
and I'm so much afraid of the fevers that are all about here — 
though I don't know why I should be afraid of them — I was lying 
down, when you came, to get rid of my pains. There's such a 
dizziness in my head now, I feel as if it didn't belong to me. No, 
I have earned no money to-day. I have had a piece of dried bread 
that I steeped in water to eat. I haven't eat anything else to-day; 
but, pra} 7 , sir, don't tell anybody of it. I could never bear the 
thought of going into the "great house" [workhouse]; I'm so used 
to the air, that I'd sooner die in the street, as many I know have 
done. I've known several of our people, who have sat down in the 
street with their basket alongside them, and died. I knew one not 
long ago, who took ill just as she was stooping down to gather up 
the Pure, and fell on her face; she was taken to the London Hospi- 
tal, and died at three o'clock in the morning. I'd sooner die like 
them than be deprived of my liberty, and be prevented from going 
about where I liked. No, I'll never go into the workhouse;- my 
master is kind to me' [the tanner whom she supplies]. 'When I'm 
ill, he sometimes gives me a sixpence; but there's one gentleman 
has done us great harm, by forcing so many into the business. He's 
a poor-law guardian, and when any poor person applies for relief, 
he tells them to go and gather pure, and that he'll buy it of them 
(for he's in the line), and so the parish, you see, don't have to give 
anything, and that's one way that so many have come into the 
trade of late, that the likes of me can do little or no good at it. Al- 
most every one I've ever known engaged in pure-finding were 
people who were better off once. I knew a man who went by the 
name of Brown, who picked up pure for years before I went to it; 
he was a very quiet man; he used to lodge in Blue Anchor-yard, and 
seldom used to speak to anybody. We two used to talk together 
sometimes, but never much. One morning he was found dead in his 
bed; it was of a Tuesday morning, and he was buried about 12 
o'clock on the Friday following. About 6 o'clock on that afternoon, 
three or four gentlemen came searching all through this place, look- 
ing for a man named Brown, and offering a reward to any who 
would find him out; there was a whole crowd about them when I 
came up. One of the gentlemen said that the man they wanted had 
lost the first finger of his right hand, and then I knew that it was the 

314 Mayhew's London 

man that had been buried, only that morning. Would you believe 
it, Mr. Brown was a real gentleman all the time, and had a large 
estate, of I don't know how many thousand pounds, just left him, 
and the lawyers had advertised and searched everywhere for him, 
but never found him, you may say, till he was dead. We discovered 
that his name was not Brown; he had only taken that name to hide 
his real one, which, of course, he did not want any one to know. 
I've often thought of him, poor man, and all the misery he might 
have been spared, if the good news had only come a year or two 

Another informant, a pure-collector, was originally in the Man- 
chester cotton trade, and held a lucrative situation in a large 
country establishment. His salary one year exceeded 250Z., and his 
regular income was 150J. 'This,' he says, 'I lost through drink and 
neglect. My master was exceedingly kind to me, and has even 
assisted me since I left his employ. He bore with me patiently for 
many years, but the love of drink was so strong upon me that it was 
impossible for him to keep me any longer.' He has often been drunk, 
he tells me, for three months together; and he is now so reduced 
that he is ashamed to be seen. When at his master's it was his duty 
to carve and help the other assistants belonging to the establish- 
ment, and his hand used to shake so violently that he has been 
ashamed to lift the gravy spoon. 

At breakfast he has frequently waited till all the young men had 
left the table before he ventured to taste his tea; and immediately, 
when he was alone, he has bent his head down to his cup to drink, 
being utterly incapable of raising it to his lips. He says he is a 
living example of the degrading influence of drink. All his friends 
have deserted him. He has suffered enough, he tells me, to make 
him give it up. He earned the week before I saw him 5s. 2d.; and 
the week before that Gs. 


There are, strictly speaking, none who make a living by picking 
up the ends of cigars thrown away as useless by the smokers in the 
streets, but there are very many who employ themselves from time 
to time in collecting them. Almost all the street-finders when they 
meet with such things, pick them up, and keep them in a pocket 

Mayhew's London 315 

set apart for that purpose. The men allow the ends to accumulate 
till they amount to two or three pounds weight, and then some 
dispose of them to a person residing in the neighbourhood of Rose- 
mary-lane, who buys them all up at from 6d. to lOd. per pound, 
according to their length and quality. The long ends are considered 
the best, as I am told there is more sound tobacco in them, un- 
injured by the moisture of the mouth. The children of the poor 
Irish, in particular, scour Ratcliff-highway, the Commercial-road, 
Mile-end-road, and all the leading thoroughfares of the East, and 
every place where cigar smokers are likely to take an evening's 
promenade. The quantity that each of them collects is very trifling 
indeed — perhaps not more than a handful during a morning's 
search. I am informed, by an intelligent man living in the midst of 
them, that these children go out in the morning not only to gather 
cigar-ends, but to pick up out of dust bins, and from amongst 
rubbish in the streets, the smallest scraps and crusts of bread, no 
matter how hard or filthy they may be. These they put into a 
little bag which they carry for the purpose, and, after they have 
gone their rounds and collected whatever they can, they take the 
cigar-ends to the man who buys them — sometimes getting not more 
than a halfpenny or a penny for their morning's collection. With 
this they buy a halfpenny or a pennyworth of oatmeal, which they 
mix up with a large quantity of water, and after washing and 
steeping the hard and dirty crusts, they put them into the pot or 
kettle and boil all together. Of this mess the whole family partake, 
and it often constitutes all the food they taste in the course of the 
day. I have often seen the bone-grubbers eat the black and sod- 
dened crusts they have picked up out of the gutter. 

It would, indeed, be a hopeless task to make any attempt to get 
at the number of persons who occasionally or otherwise pick up 
cigar-ends with the view of selling them again. For this purpose 
almost all who ransack the streets of London for a living may be 
computed as belonging to the class; and to these should be added 
the children of the thousands of destitute Irish who have inundated 
the metropolis within the last few years, and who are to be found 
huddled together in all the low neighbourhoods in every suburb 
of the City. What quantity is collected, or the amount of money 
obtained for the ends, there are no means of ascertaining. 

Let us, however, make a conjecture. There are in round numbers 

316 Mayhew's London 

300,000 inhabited houses in the metropolis; and allowing the mar- 
ried people living in apartments to be equal in number to the 
unmarried 'housekeepers,' we may compute that the number of 
families in London is about the same as the inhabited houses. 
Assuming one young or old gentleman in every ten of these families 
to smoke one cigar per diem in the public thoroughfares, we have 
30,000 cigar-ends daily, or 210,000 weekly cast away in the London 
streets. Now, reckoning 150 cigars to go to the pound, we may as- 
sume that each end so cast away weighs about the thousandth part 
of a pound; consequently the gross weight of the ends flung into the 
gutter will, in the course of the week, amount to about 2 cwt.; and 
calculating that only a sixth part of these are picked up by the 
finders, it follows that there is very nearly a ton of refuse tobacco 
collected annually in the metropolitan thoroughfares. 

The aristocratic quarters of the City and the vicinity of theatres 
and casinos are the best for the cigar-finders. In the Strand, Regent- 
street, and the more fashionable thoroughfares, I am told, there 
are many ends picked up; but even in these places they do not 
exclusively furnish a means of living to any of the finders. All the 
collectors sell them to some other person, who acts as middle-man 
in the business. How he disposes of the ends is unknown, but it is 
supposed they are resold to some of the large manufacturers of 
cigars, and go to form the component part of a new stock of the 
'best Havannahs'; or, in other words, they are worked up again 
to be again cast away, and again collected by the finders, and so 
on perhaps, till the millennium comes. Some suppose them to be 
cut up and mixed with the common smoking tobacco, and others 
that they are used in making snuff. There are, I am assured, five 
persons residing in different parts of London, who are known to 
purchase the cigar- ends. 


All that has been said of the cigar-end finders may, in a great 
meisurc, apply to the wood -gatherers. No one can make a living 
exclusively by the gathering of wood, and those who do gather 
it, gather as well rags, bones, and bits of metal. They gather it, 
indeed, as an adjunct to their other findings, on the principle that 
'every little helps.' Those, however, who most frequently look 

Mayhew^s London 317 

for wood are the very old and feeble, and the very young, who are 
both unable to travel far, or to carry a heavy burden, and thej^ may 
occasionally be seen crawling about in the neighbourhood of any 
new buildings in the course of construction, or old ones in the 
course of demolition, and picking up small odds and ends of wood 
and chips swept out amongst dirt and shavings; these they deposit 
in a bag or basket which they carry for that purpose. Should there 
happen to be what they call 'pulling-down work,' that is, taking 
down old houses, or palings, the place is immediately beset by a 
number of wood-gatherers, young and old, and in general all the 
poor people of the locality join with them, to obtain their share 
of the spoil. What the poor get they take home and burn, but the 
wood-gatherers sell all they procure for some small trifle. 

Some short time ago a portion of the wood-pavement in the 
city was being removed; a large number of the old blocks, which 
were much worn and of no further use, were thrown aside, and 
became the perquisite of the wood-gatherers. During the repair of 
the street, the spot was contantly besieged by a motley mob of 
men, women, and children, who, in many instances, struggled and 
fought for the wood rejected as worthless. This wood they either 
sold for a trifle as they got it, or took home and split, and made 
into bundles for sale as firewood. 


The dredgermen of the Thames, or river finders, naturally occupy 
the same place with reference to the street-finders, as the purlmen 
or river beer-sellers do to those who get their living by selling 
in the streets. It would be in itself a curious inquiry to trace the 
origin of the manifold occupations in which men are found to be 
engaged in the present day, and to note how promptly every 
circumstance and occurrence was laid hold of, as it happened to 
arise, which appeared to have any tendency to open up a new 
occupation, and to mark /the gradual progress, till it became a 
regularly-established emplyoyment, followed by a separate class of 
people, fenced round by rules and customs of their own, and who 
at length grew to be both in their habits and peculiarities plainly 
distinct from the other classes among whom they chanced to be 

318 Mayhew^s London 

There has been no historian among the dredgers of the Thames 
to record the commencement of the business, and the utmost that 
any of the river-finders can tell is that his father had been a dredger, 
and so had his father before him, and that that's the reason why 
they are dredgers also. But no such people as dredgers were known 
on the Thames in remote days; and before London had become 
an important trading port, where nothing was likely to be got for 
the searching, it is not probable that people would have been 
induced to search. In those days, the only things searched for in 
the river were the bodies of persons drowned, accidentally or 
otherwise. For this purpose, the Thames fishermen of all others, 
appeared to be the best adapted. They were on the spot at all times, 
and had various sorts of tackle, such as nets, lines, hooks, &c. The 
fishermen well understood everything connected with the river, 
such as the various sets of the tides, and the nature of the bottom, 
and they were therefore on such occasions invariably applied to 
for these purposes. 

It is known to all who remember anything of Old London Bridge, 
that at certain time of the tide, in consequence of the velocity with 
which the water rushed through the narrow apertures which the 
arches then afforded for its passage, to bring a boat in safety 
through the bridge was a feat to be attempted only by the skilful 
and experienced. This feat was known as 'shooting' London Bridge; 
and it was no unusual thing for accidents to happen even to the 
most expert. In fact, numerous accidents occurred at this bridge, 
and at such times valuable articles were sometimes lost, for which 
high rewards were offered to the finder. Here again the fishermen 
came into requisition, the small drag-net, which they used while 
rowing, offering itself for the purpose; for, by fixing an iron frame 
round the mouth of the drag-net, this part of it, from its specific 
gravity, sunk first to the bottom, and consequently scraped along 
as they pulled forward, collecting into the net everything that came 
in its way; when it was nearly filled, which the rower always knew 
by the weight, it was hauled up to the surface, its contents exa- 
mined, and the object lost generally recovered. 

It is thus apparent that the fishermen of the Thames were the 
men originally employed as dredgermen; though casually, indeed, 
at first, and according as circumstances occurred requiring their 
services. By degrees, however, as the commerce of the river in- 

Mayhew's London 319 

creased, and a greater number of articles fell overboard from the 
shipping, they came to be more frequently called into requisition, 
and so they were naturally led to adopt the dredging as part and 
parcel of their business. Thus it remains to the present day. 

The fishermen all serve a regular apprenticeship, as they say 
themselves, 'duly and truly' for seven years. During the time of 
their apprenticeship they are (or rather, in former times they were) 
obliged to sleep in their master's boat at night to take care of his 
property, and were subject to many other curious regulations, 
which are foreign to this subject. 

I have said that the fishermen of the Thames to the present 
day unite the dredging to their proper calling. By this I mean that 
they employ themselves in fishing during the summer and autumn, 
either from Barking Creek downwards, or from Chelsea Reach 
upwards, catching dabs, flounders, eels, and other sorts of fish for 
the London markets. But in winter when the days are short and 
cold, and the weather stormy, they prefer stopping at home, and 
dredging the bed of the river for anything they may chance to find. 
There are others, however, who have started wholly in the dredging 
line, there being no hindrance or impediment to any one doing so, 
nor any licence required for the purpose: these dredge the river 
winter and summer alike, and are, in fact, the only real dredgermen 
of the present day living solely by that occupation. 

There are in all about 100 dredgermen at work on the river, and 
these are located as follows: — 


From Putney to Vauxhall there are . . . .20 

From Vauxhall to London-bridge . . . .40 

From London-bridge to Deptford . . . .20 

And from Deptford to Gravesend . . . .20 


All these reside, in general, on the south side of the Thames, 
the two places most frequented by them being Lambeth and Roth- 
erhithe. They do not, however, confine themselves to the neigh- 
bourhoods wherein they reside, but extend their operations to all 
parts of the river, wiiere it is likely that they may pick up anything; 
and it is perfectly marvellous with what rapidity the intelligence of 
any accident calculated to afford them employment is spread 

320 Mayhew^s London 

among them; for should a loaded coal barge be sunk over night, by- 
daylight the next morning every dredgerman would be sure to be 
upon the spot, prepared to collect what he could from the wreck at 
the bottom of the river. 

The boats of the dredgermen are of a peculiar shape. They have 
no stern, but are the same fore and aft. They are called Peter boats, 
but not one of the men with whom I spoke had the least idea as to 
the origin of the name. These boats are to be had at almost all 
prices, according to their condition and age — from 30s. to 20/. The 
boats used by the fishermen dredgermen are decidedly the most 
valuable. One with the other, perhaps the whole may average 10Z. 
each; and this sum will give 1,000/. as the value of the entire number. 
A complete set of tackle, including drags, will cost 21., which comes 
to 200/. for all hands; and thus we have the sum of 1,200/. as the 
amount of capital invested in the dredging of the Thames. 

It is by no means an easy matter to form any estimate of the 
earnings of the dredgermen, as they are a matter of mere chance. 
In former years, when Indiamen and all the foreign shipping lay 
in the river, the river finders were in the habit of doing a good 
business, not only in their own line, through the greater quantities 
of rope, bones, and other things which were thrown or fell over- 
board, but they also contrived to smuggle ashore great quantities 
of tobacco, tea, spirits, and other contraband articles, and thought 
it a bad day's work when they did not earn a pound independent 
of their dredging. An old dredger told me he had often in those 
days made 5/. before breakfast time. After the evacuation of the 
various docks, and after the larger shipping had departed from 
the river, the finders were obliged to content themselves with the 
chances of mere dredging; and even then, I am informed, they 
were in the habit of earning one week with another throughout 
the year, about 25s. per week, each, or 6,500/. per annum among 
all. Latterly, however, the earnings of these men have greatly fallen 
off, especially in the summer, for then they cannot get so good a 
price for the coal they find as in the winter — Gd. per bushel being 
the summer price; and, as they consider three bushels a good day's 
work, their earnings at this period of the year amount only to 
Is. Gd. per day, excepting when they happen to pick up some bones 
or pieces of metal, or to find a dead body for which there is a reward. 
In the winter, however, the dredgermen can readily get Is. per 

Mayhew's London 321 

bushel for all the coals they find; and far more coals are to be found 
then than in summer, for there are more colliers in the river, and 
far more accidents at that season. Coal barges are often sunk in the 
winter, and on such occasions they make a good harvest. Moreover 
there is the finding of bodies, for which they not only get the re- 
ward, but 5s., which they call inquest money; together with many 
other chances, such as the finding of money and valuables among 
the rubbish they bring up from the bottom; but as the last-men- 
tioned are accidents happening throughout the year, I am inclined 
to think that they have understated the amount which they are in 
the habit of realizing even in the summer. 

The dredgers, as a class, may be said to be altogether uneducated, 
not half a dozen out of the whole number being able to read 
their own name, and only one or two to write it; this select few are 
considered by the rest as perfect prodigies. 'Lor' bless you!' said 

one, 'I on'y wish you'd 'ear Bill S read; I on'y jist wish you'd 

'ear him. Why that 'ere Bill can read faster nor a dog can trot. And, 
what's more, I seed him write an 'ole letter hisself, ev'ry word on 
it! What do you think o' that now?' The ignorance of the dredger- 
men may be accounted for by the men taking so early to the water, 
the bustle and excitement of the river being far more attractive to 
them than the routine of a school. Almost as soon as they are able 
to do anything, the dredgermen's boys are taken by their fathers 
afloat to assist in picking out the coals, bones, and other things 
of any use, from the midst of the rubbish brought up in their drag- 
nets; or else the lads are sent on board as assistants to one or other 
of the fishermen during their fishing voyages. When once engaged 
in this way it has been found impossible afterwards to keep the 
youths from the water; and if they have learned anything previ- 
ously they very soon forget it. 

It might be expected that the dredgers, in a manner depending 
on chance for their livelihood, and leading a restless sort of life on 
the water, would closely resemble the costermongers in their habits; 
but it is far otherwise. There can be no two classes more dissimilar, 
except in their hatred of restraint. Tho dredgers are sober and 
steady; gambling is unknown amongst them; and they are, to an 
extraordinary degree, laborious, persevering, and patient. They 
are in general men of short stature, but square built, strong, and 
capable of enduring groat fatigue, and havo a silent and thoughtful 

322 Mayhew's London 

look. Being almost always alone, and studying how they may best 
succeed in finding what they seek, marking the various sets of the 
tide, and the direction in which things falling into the water at a 
particular place must necessarily be carried, they become the very 
opposite to the other river people, especially to the watermen, who 
are brawling and clamorous, and delight in continually 'chaffing' 
each other. In consequence of the sober and industrious habits of 
the dredgermen their homes are, as they say, 'pretty fair' for 
working men, though there is nothing very luxurious to be found 
in them, nor indeed anything beyond what is absolutely necessary. 
After their day's work, especially if they have 'done well,' these 
men smoke a pipe over a pint or two of beer at the nearest public- 
house, get home early to bed, and if the tide answers may be found 
on the river patiently dredging away at two or three o'clock in the 

Whenever a loaded coal barge happens to sink, as I have already 
intimated, it is surprising how short a time elapses before that part 
of the river is alive with the dredgers. They flock thither from all 
parts. The river on such occasions presents a very animated appear- 
ance. At first they are all in a group, and apparently in confusion, 
crossing and re-crossing each other's course; some with their oars 
pulled in while they examine the contents of their nets, and empty 
the coals into the bottom of their boats; others rowing and tugging 
against the stream, to obtain an advantageous position for the next 
cast; and when they consider they have found this, down go the 
dredging- nets to the bottom, and away they row again with the 
stream, as if pulling for a wager, till they find by the weight of 
their net that it is full; then they at once stop, haul it to the surface, 
and commence another course. Others who have been successful 
in getting their boats loaded may be seen pushing a way from the 
main body, and making towards the shore. Here they busily employ 
themselves, with what help they can get, in emptying the boat of 
her cargo — carrying it ashore in old coal buckets, bushel measures, 
or anything else which will suit their purpose; and when this is 
completed they pull out again to join their comrades, and com- 
mence afresh. They continue working thus till the returning tide 
puts an end to their labours, but these are resumed after the tide 
has fallen to a certain depth; and so they go on, working night and 
day while there is anything to be got. 

Mayhew's London 3 23 

The dredgerman and his boat may be immediately distinguished 
from all others; there is nothing similar to them on the river. The 
sharp cutwater fore and aft, and short rounded appearance of the 
vessel, marks it out at once from the skiff or wherry of the water- 
man. There is, too, always the appearance of labour about the boat, 
like a ship returning after a long voyage, daubed and filthy, and 
looking sadly in need of a thorough cleansing. The grappling irons 
are over the bow, resting on a coil of rope; while the other end of 
the boat is filled with coals, bones, and old rope, mixed with the 
mud of the river. The ropes of the dredging-net hang over the side. 
A short stout figure, with a face soiled and blackened with perspir- 
ation, and surmounted by a tarred sou'-wester, the body habited 
in a soiled check shirt, with the sleeves turned up above the elbows, 
and exhibiting a pair of sunburnt brawny arms, is pulling at the 
sculls, not with the ease and lightness of the waterman, but toiling 
and tugging away like a galley slave, as he scours the bed of the 
river with his dredging-net in search of some hoped-for prize. 

The dredgers, as was before stated, are the men who find almost 
all the bodies of persons drowned. If there be a reward offered for 
the recovery of a body, numbers of the dredgers will at once 
endeavour to obtain it, while if there be no reward, there is at least 
the inquest money to be had — beside other chances. What these 
chances are may be inferred from the well-known fact, that no body 
recovered by a dredgerman ever happens to have any money about 
it, when brought to shore. There may, indeed, be a watch in the fob 
or waistcoat pocket, for that article would be likely to be traced. 
There may, too, be a purse or pocket-book forthcoming, but some- 
how it is invariably empty. The dredgers cannot by any reasoning 
or argument be made to comprehend that there is anything like 
dishonesty in emptying the pockets of a dead man. They say that 
any one who finds a body does precisely the same, and that if they 
did not do so the police would. 

One of the most industrious, and I believe one of the most skilful 
and successful of this peculiar class, gave me the following epitome 
of his history. 

'Father was a dredger, and grandfather afore him; grandfather 
was a dredger and a fisherman too. A'most as soon as I was able to 
crawl, father took me with him in the boat to help him to pick the 
coals, and bones, and other things out of the net, and to use me to 

324 Mayhew's London 

the water. When I got bigger and stronger, I was sent to the parish 
school, but I didn't like it half as well as the boat, and couldn't be 
got to stay two days together. At last I went above bridge, and went 
along with a fisherman, and used to sleep in the boat every night. 
I liked to sleep in the boat; I used to be as comfortable as could be. 
Lor' bless you! there's a tilt to them boats, and no rain can't git at 
you. I used to lie awake of a night in them times, and listen to the 
water slapping ag'in the boat, and think it fine fun. I might a got 
bound 'prentice, but I got aboard a smack, where I stayed three or 
four year, and if I'd a stayed there, I'd a liked it much better. 
But I heerd as how father was ill, so I com'd home, and took to the 
dredging, and am at it off and on ever since. I got no larnin', how 
could I ? There's on'y one or two of us dredgers as knows anything 
of larnin', and they're no better off than the rest. Larnin's no use 
to a dredger, he hasn't got no time to read; and if he had, why it 
wouldn't tell him where the holes and furrows is at the bottom of 
the river, and where things is to be found. To be sure there's holes 
and furrows at the bottom. I know a good many. I know a furrow 
off Lime'us Point, no wider nor the dredge, and I can go there, and 
when others can't git anything but stones and mud, I can git four 
of five bushel o' coal. You see they lay there; they get in with the 
set of the tide, and can't git out so easy like. Dredgers don't do so 
well now as they used to do. You know Pelican Stairs? well, before 
the Docks was built, when the ships lay there, I could go under 
Pelican Pier and pick up four or five shilling of a morning. What 
was that tho' to father? I hear him say he often made 51. afore 
breakfast, and nobody ever the wiser. Them were fine times! there 
was a good livin' to be picked up on the water them days. About 
ten year ago, the fishermen at Lambeth, them as sarves their time 
"duly and truly" thought to put us off the water, and went afore 
the Lord Mayor, but they couldn't do nothink after all. They do 
better nor us, as they go fishin' all the summer, when the dredgin' 
is bad, and come back in winter. Some on us down here' [Rother- 
hithe] 'go a deal-portering in the summer, or unloading 'tatoes, or 
anything else we can get; when we have nothin' else to do, we go 
on the river. Father don't dredge now, he's too old for that; it 
takes a man to be strong to dredge, so father goes to ship scrapin'. 
He on'y sits on a plank outside the ship, and scrapes off the old tar 
with a scraper. Wo does very well for all that — why he can make 

Mayhew's London 325 

his half a bull a day [2s. 6d.] when he gits work, but that's not 
always; howsomever I helps the old man at times, when I'm able. 
I've found a good many bodies. I got a many rewards, and a tidy 
bit of inquest money. There's 55. Qd. inquest money at Rother- 
hithe, and on'y a shillin' at Deptford; I can't make out how that is, 
but that's all they give, I know. I never finds anythink on the 
bodies. Lor' bless you! people don't have anythink in their pockets 
when they gits drowned, they are not such fools as all that. Do you 
see them two marks there on the back of my hand ? Well, one day — 
I was on'y young then — I was grabblin' for old rope in Church Hole, 
when I brings up a body, and just as I was fixing the rope on his 
leg to tow him ashore, two swells comes down in a skiff, and lays 
hold of the painter of my boat, and tows me ashore. The hook of 
the drag went right thro' the trousers of the drowned man and my 
hand, and I couldn't let go no how, and tho' I roared out like mad, 
the swells didn't care, but dragged me into the stairs. When I got 
there, my arm, and the corpse's shoe and trousers, was all kivered 
with my blood. What do you think the gents said? — why, they told 
me as how they had done me good, in towin' the body in, and ran 
away up the stairs. Tho' times ain't near so good as they was, I 
manages purty tidy, and hasn't got no occasion to hollor much; 
but there's some of the dredgers as would hollor, if they was ever 
so well off.' 


Some few years ago, the main sewers, having their outlets on the 
river side, were completely open, so that any person desirous of 
exploring their dark and uninviting recesses might enter at the 
river side, and wander away, provided he could withstand the 
combination of villainous stenches which met him at every step, for 
many miles, in any direction. At that time it was a thing of very 
frequent occurrence, especially at the spring tides, for the water 
to rush into the sewers, pouring through them like a torrent and 
then to burst up through the gratings into the streets, flooding all 
the low-lying districts in the vicinity of the river, till the streets of 
Shad well and Wapping resembled a Dutch town, intersected by 
a series of muddy canals. Of late, however, to remedy this defect, 
the Commissioners have had a strong brick wall built within the 
entrance to the several sewers. In each of these brick walls there is 

326 31 ay hew'' s London 

an opening covered by a strong iron door, which hangs from the 
top and is so arranged that when the tide is low the rush of the 
water and other filth on the inner side, forces it back and allows 
the contents of the sewer to pass into the river, whilst when the 
tide rises the door is forced so close against the wall by the pressure 
of the water outside that none can by any possibility enter, and 
thus the river neighbourhoods are secured from the deluges which 
were heretofore of such frequent occurrence. 

Were it not a notorious fact, it might perhaps be thought 
impossible, that men could be found who, for the chance of obtain- 
ing a living of some sort or other, would, day after day, and year 
after year, continue to travel through these underground channels 
for the offscouring of the city; but such is the case even at the pres- 
ent moment. In former times, however, this custom prevailed 
much more than now, for in those days the sewers were entirely 
open and presented no obstacle to any one desirous of entering 
them. Many wondrous tales are still told among the people of men 
having lost their way in the sewers, and of having wandered among 
the filthy passages — their lights extinguished by the noisome 
vapours — till, faint and overpowered, they dropped down and 
died on the spot. Other stories are told of sewer-hunters beset by 
myriads of enormous rats, and slaying thousands of them in their 
struggle for life, till at length the swarms of the savage things 
overpowered them, and in a few days afterwards their skeletons 
were discovered picked to the very bones. Since the iron doors, 
however, have been placed on the main sewers a prohibition has 
been issued against entering them, and a reward of 51. offered to 
any person giving information so as to lead to the conviction of any 
offender. Nevertheless many still travel through these foul laby- 
rinths, in search of such valuables as may have found their way 
down the drains. 

The persons who are in the habit of searching the sewers, call 
themselves 'shore-men' or 'shore-workers.' They belong, in a 
certain degree, to the same class as the 'mud-larks,' that is to say, 
they travel through the mud along shore in the neighbourhood of 
ship-building and ship-breaking yards, for the purpose of picking 
up copper nails, bolts, iron, and old rope. The shore-men, however, 
do not collect the lumps of coal and wood they meet with on their 
way, but leave them as the proper perquisites of the mud-larks. 

Mayhcw's London 3 27 

The sewer-hunters were formerly, and indeed are still, called 
by the name of 'Toshers,' the articles which they pick up in the 
course of their wanderings along shore being known among them- 
selves by the general term 'tosh,' a word more particularly applied 
by them to anything made of copper. These 'Toshers' may be 
seen, especially on the Surrey side of the Thames, habited in long 
greasy velveteen coats, furnished with pockets of vast capacity, 
and their nether limbs encased in dirty canvas trousers, and any 
old slops of shoes, that may be fit only for wading through the mud. 
They carry a bag on their back, and in their hand a pole seven 
or eight feet long, on one end of which there is a large iron hoe. 
The uses of this instrument are various; with it they try the ground 
wherever it appears unsafe, before venturing on it, and, when 
assured of its safety, walk forward steadying their footsteps with 
the staff. Should they, as often happens, even to the most experi- 
enced, sink in some quagmire, they immediately throw out the long 
pole armed with the hoe, which is always held uppermost for this 
purpose, and with it seizing hold of any object within their reach, 
are thereby enabled to draw themselves out; without the pole, how- 
ever, their danger would be greater, for the more they struggled 
to extricate themselves from such places, the deeper they would 
sink; and even with it, they might perish, I am told, in some part, 
if there were nobody at hand to render them assistance. Finally, 
they make use of this pole to rake about the mud when searching 
for iron, copper, rope, and bones. The}'' mostly exhibit great skill in 
discovering these things in unlikely places, and have a knowledge 
of the various sets of the tide, calculated to carry articles to 
particular points, almost equal to the dredgermen themselves. 
Although they cannnot 'pick up' as much now as they formerly did, 
they are still able to make what they call a fair living, and can afford 
to look down with a species of aristocratic contempt on the puny 
efforts of their less fortunate brethren the 'mud-larks.' 

To enter the sewers and explore them to any considerable dis- 
tance is considered, even by those acquainted with what is termed 
'working the shores,' an adventure of no small risk. There are 
a variety of perils to be encountered in such places. The brick- 
work in many parts — especially in the old sewers — has become 
rotten through the continual action of the putrefying matter and 
moisturo and parts have fallen down and choked up the passage 

328 Mayheufs London 

with heaps of rubbish; over these obstructions, nevertheless, the 
sewer-hunters have to scramble 'in the best way they can.' In such 
parts they are careful not to touch the brickwork over head, for 
the slightest tap might bring down an avalanche of old bricks and 
earth, and severely injure them, if not bury them in the rubbish. 
Since the construction of the new sewers, the old ones are in general 
abandoned by the 'hunters;' but in many places the former channels 
cross and re-cross those recently constructed, and in the old sewers 
a person is very likely to lose his way. It is dangerous to venture far 
into any of the smaller sewers branching off from the main, for in 
this the 'hunters' have to stoop low down in order to proceed; 
and, from the confined space, there are often accumulated in such 
places, large quantities of foul air, which, as one of them stated, 
will 'cause instantious death.' Moreover, far from there being any 
romance in the tales told of the rats, these vermin are really numer- 
ous and formidable in the sewers, and have been known, I am 
assured, to attack men when alone, and even sometimes when ac- 
companied by others, with such fury that the people have escaped 
from them with difficulty. They are particularly ferocious and 
dangerous, if driven into some corner whence they cannot escape, 
when they will immediately fly at any one that opposes their prog- 
ress. I received a similar account to this from one of the London 
fishermen. There are moreover, in some quarters, ditches or trenches 
which are filled with water as the water rushes up the sewers 
with the tide; in these ditches the water is retained by a sluice, 
which is shut down at high tide, and lifted again at low tide, when it 
rushes down the sewers with all the violence of a mountain torrent, 
sweeping everything before it. If the sewer- hunter be not close to 
some branch sewer, so that he can run into it, whenever the opening 
of these sluices takes place, he must inevitably perish. The trenches 
or water reservoirs for the cleansing of the sewers are chiefly on 
the south side of the river, and, as a proof of the great danger to 
which the sewor-hunters are exposed in such cases, it may be stated, 
that not very long ago, a sewer on the south side of the Thames 
was opened to be repaired; a long ladder reached to the bottom 
of the sewer, down which the bricklayer's labourer was going with 
a hod of bricks, when the rush of water from the sluice, struck the 
bottom of the ladder, and instantly swept away ladder, labourer, 
and all. The bricklayer fortunately was enjoying his 'pint and pipe' 

Mayhem's London 329 

at a neighbouring public-house. The labourer was found by my 
informant, a 'shore-worker,' near the mouth of the sewer quite 
dead, battered, and disfigured in a frightful manner. There was 
likewise great danger in former times from the rising of the tide 
in the sewers, so that it was necessary for the shore-men to have 
quitted them before the water had got any height within the 
entrance. At present, however, this is obviated in those sewers 
where the main is furnished with an iron door towards the river. 
The shore -workers, when about to enter the sewers, provide 
themselves, in addition to the long hoe already described, with a 
canvas apron, which they tie round them, and a dark lantern 
similar to a policeman's; this they strap before them on their right 
breast, in such a manner that on removing the shade, the bull's- 
eye throws the light straight forward when they are in an erect 
position, and enables them to see everything in advance of them for 
some distance; but when they stoop, it throws the light directly 
under them, so that they can then distinctly see any object at their 
feet. The sewer-hunters usually go in gangs of three of four for the 
sake of company, and in order that they may be the better able to 
defend themselves from the rats. The old hands who have been 
often up (and every gang endeavours to include at least one ex- 
perienced person), travel a long distance, not only through the 
main sewers, but also through many of the branches. Whenever 
the shore-men come near a street grating, they close their lanterns 
and watch their opportunity of gliding silently past unobserved, 
for otherwise a crowd might collect over head and intimate to the 
policeman on duty, that there were persons wandering in the 
sewers below. The shore- workers never take dogs with them, lest 
their barking when hunting the rats might excite attention. As the 
men go along they search the bottom of the sewer, raking away 
the mud with their hoe, and pick, from between the crevices of the 
brick-work, money, or anything else that may have lodged there. 
There are in many parts of the sewers holes where the brick-work 
has been worn away, and in these holes clusters of articles are 
found, which have been washed into them from time to time, and 
perhaps been collecting there for years; such as pieces of iron, nails, 
various scraps of metal, coins of every description, all rusted into 
a mass like a rock, and weighing from a half hundred to two hundred 
weight altogether. These 'conglomerates' of metal are too heavy 

330 Mayhew's London 

for the men to take out of the sewers, so that if unable to break 
them up, they are compelled to leave them behind; and there are 
very many such masses, I am informed, lying in the sewers at this 
moment, of immense weight, and growing larger every day by 
continual additions. The shore-men find great quantities of money 
— of copper money especially; sometimes they dive their arm down 
to the elbow in the mud and filth and bring up shillings, sixpences, 
half-crowns, and occasionally half-sovereigns and sovereigns. 
They always find the coins standing edge uppermost between the 
bricks in the bottom, where the mortar has been worn away. The 
sewer-hunters occasionally find plate, such as spoons, ladles, silver- 
handled knives and forks, mugs and drinking cups, and now and 
then articles of jewellery; but even while thus 'in luck' as they 
call it, they do not omit to fill the bags on their backs with the 
more cumbrous articles they meet with — such as metals of every 
description, rope and bones. There is always a great quantity of 
these things to be met with in the sewers, they being continually 
washed down from the cesspools and drains of the houses. When 
the sewer-hunters consider they have searched long enough, or 
when they have found as much as they can conveniently take 
away, the gang leave the sewers and, adjourning to the nearest of 
their homes, count out the money they have picked up, and proceed 
to dispose of the old metal, bones, rope, &c; this done, they then, 
as they term it, 'whack' the whole lot; that is, they divide it equally 
among all hands. At these divisions, I am assured, it frequently 
occurs that each member of the gang will realise from 305. to 21. — 
this at least was a frequent occurrence some few years ago. Of late, 
the shore-men are obliged to use far more caution, as the police, 
and especially those connected with the river, who are more on 
the alert, as well as many of the coal- merchants in the neighbour- 
hood of the sewers, would give information if they saw any suspi- 
cious persons approaching them. 

The principal localities in which the shore-hunters reside are 
in Mint-square, Mint-street, and Kent-street, in the Borough — 
Snow's- fields, Bermondsey — and that never-failing locality be- 
tween the London Docks and Rosemary-lane which appears to be a 
concentration of all the misery of the kingdom. There were known 
to be a few years ago nearly 200 sewer-hunters, or 'toshers,' and, 
incredible as it may appear, I have satisfied myself that, taking one 

The London Dustman 


The London Sweep 

Mayhew's London 3 33 

week with another, they could not be said to make much short of 
21. per week. Their probable gains, I was told, were about 65. per 
day all the year round. At this rate the property recovered from 
the sewers of London would have amounted to no less than 20,0007. 
per annum, which would make the amount of property lost down 
the drains of each house amount to Is. 4:d. a year. The shore-hunter 
of the present day greatly complain of the recent restrictions, and 
inveigh in no measured terms against the constituted authorities. 
'They won't let us in to work the shores,' say they, 'cause there's 
a little danger. They fears as how we'll get suffocated, at least 
they tells us so; but they don't care if we get starved! no, they 
doesn't mind nothink about that.' 

The sewer-hunters, strange as it may appear, are certainly smart 
fellows, and take decided precedence of all the other 'finders' of 
London, whether by land or water, both on account of the greater 
amount of their earnings, and the skill and courage they manifest 
in the pursuit of their dangerous employment. But like all who 
make a living as it were by a game of chance, plodding, carefulness, 
and saving habits cannot be reckoned among their virtues; they 
are improvident, even to a proverb. With their gains, superior 
even to those of the better-paid artisans, and far beyond the 
amount received by many clerks, who have to maintain a 'respect- 
able appearance,' the shore-men might, with but ordinary pru- 
dence, live well, have comfortable homes, and even be able to save 
sufficient to provide for themselves in their old age. Their practice, 
however, is directly the reverse. They no sooner make a 'haul,' as 
they say, than they adjourn to some low public-house in the neigh- 
bourhood, and seldom leave till empty pockets and hungry stom- 
achs drive them forth to procure the means for a fresh debauch. It 
is principally on this account that, despite their large gains, they are 
to be found located in the most wretched quarter of the metropolis. 

It might be supposed that the sewer-hunters (passing much of 
their time in the midst of the noisome vapours generated by the 
sewers, the odour of which, escaping upwards from the gratings 
in the streets, is dreaded and shunned by all as something pestilen- 
tial) would exhibit in their pallid faces the unmistakable evidence of 
their unhealthy employment. But this is far from the fact. Strange 
to say, the sewer-hunters are strong, robust, and healthy men, 
generally florid in their complexion, while many of them know 

334 Mayhew^s London 

illness only by name. Some of the elder men, who head the gangs 
when exploring the sewers, are between 60 and 80 years of age, 
and have followed the employment during their whole lives. The 
men appear to have a fixed belief that the odour of the sewers 
contributes in a variety of ways to their general health; neverthe- 
less they admit that accidents occasionally occur from the air in 
some places being fully impregnated with mephitic gas. 

I found one of these men, from whom I derived much infor- 
mation and who is really an active intelligent man, in a court off 
Rosemary-lane. Access is gained to this court through a dark 
narrow entrance, scarcely wider than a doorway, running beneath 
the first floor of one of the houses in the adjoining street. The court 
itself is about 50 yards long, and not more than three yards wide, 
surrounded by lofty wooden houses, with jutting abutments in 
many of the upper stories that almost exclude the light, and give 
them the appearance of being about to tumble down upon the heads 
of the intruders. This court is densely inhabited; every room has its 
own family, more or less in number; and in many of them, I am 
assured, there are two families residing, the better to enable the 
one to whom the room is let to pay the rent. At the time of my visit, 
which was in the evening, after the inmates had returned from their 
various employments, some quarrel had arisen among them. The 
court was so thronged with the friends of the contending individu- 
als and spectators of the fight that I was obliged to stand at the 
entrance, unable to force my way through the dense multitude, 
while labourers and street-folk with shaggy heads, and women Avith 
dirty caps and fuzzy hair, thronged every window above, and 
peered down anxiously at the affray. There must have been some 
hundreds of people collected there, and yet all were inhabitants of 
this very court, for the noise of the quarrel had not yet reached the 
street. On wondering at the number, my informant, when the noise 
had ceased, explained the matter as follows: 'You see, sir, there's 
more than 30 houses in this here court, and there's not less than 
eight rooms in every house; now there's nine or ten people in some 
of the rooms, I knows, but just say four in every room, and calcu- 
late what that there comes to.' I did, and found it, to my surprise, 
to be 960. 'Well,' continued my informant, chuckling and rubbing 
his hands in evident delight at the result, 'you may as well just 
tack a couple a hundred on to the tail o' them for make-weight, 

Mayhew^s London 335 

as we're not werry pertikler about a hundred or two one way or 
the other in these here places.' 

In this court, up three flights of narrow stairs that creaked and 
trembled at every footstep, and in an ill-furnished garret, dwelt the 
shore-worker — a man who, had he been careful, according to his 
own account, at least, might have money in the bank and be the 
proprietor of the house in which he lived. The sewer-hunters, like 
the street-people, are all known by some peculiar nickname, derived 
chiefly from some personal characteristic. It would be a waste 
of time to inquire for them by their right names, even if you were 
acquainted with them, for none else would know them, and no 
intelligence concerning them could be obtained; while under the 
title of Lanky Bill, Long Tom, One-eyed George, Short-armed 
Jack, they are known to every one. 

My informant, who is also dignified with a title, or as he calls it, 
a 'handle to his name,' gave me the following account of himself: 
'I was born in Birmingham, but afore I recollects any think, we 
came to London. The first thing I remembers is being down on the 
shore at Cuckold's P'int, when the tide was out and up to my knees 
in mud, and a gitting down deeper and deeper every minute till 
I was picked up by one of the shore -workers. I used to git down 
there every day, to look at the ships and boats a sailing up and 
down; I'd niver be tired a looking at them at that time. As last 
father 'prenticed me to a blacksmith in Bermondsey, and then I 
couldn't git down to the river when I liked so I got to hate the forge and 
the fire, and blowing the bellows, and couldn't stand the confinement no 
how, — at last I cuts and runs. After some time they gits me back 
ag'in, but I cuts ag'in. I was determined not to stand it. I wouldn't 
go home for fear I'd be sent back, so I goes down to Cuckold's P'int 
and there I sits near half the day, when who should I see but the 
old un as had picked me up out ot the mud when I was a sinking. 
I tells him all about it, and he takes me home along with hisself, 
and gits me a bag and an o, and takes me out next day, and shows 
me what to do, and shows me the dangerous places, and the places 
what are safe, and how to rake in the mud for rope, and bones, and 
iron, and that's the way I coined to be a shore-worker. Lor' bless 
you, I've worked Cuckold's P'int for more nor twenty year. I know 
places where you'd go over head and ears in the mud, and jist 
alongside on 'em you may walk as safe as you can on this floor. 

336 Mayhew's London 

But it don't do for a stranger to try it, he'd wery soon git in, and 
it's not so easy to git out agin, I can tell you. I stay'd with the old 
un a long time, and we used to git lots o' tin, specially when we'd go 
to work the sewers. I liked that well enough. I could git into small 
places where the old un couldn't, and when I'd got near the grating 
in the street, I'd search about in the bottom of the sewer; I'd put 
down my arm to my shoulder in the mud and bring up shillings 
and half-crowns, and lots of coppers, and plenty other things. I 
once found a silver jug as big as a quart pot, and often found 
spoons and knives and forks and every thing you can think of. 
Bless your heart, the smell's nothink; it's a roughish smell at first, 
but nothink near so bad as you thinks, 'cause, you see, there's sich 
lots o' water always a coming down the sewer, and the air gits in 
from the gratings, and that helps to sweeten it a bit. There's some 
places, 'specially in the old sewers, where they say there's foul air, 
and they tells me the foul air '11 cause instantious death, but I niver 
met with anythink of the kind, and I think if there was sich a thing, 
I should know somethink about it, for I've worked the sewers, off 
and on, for twenty year. When we comes to a narrow-place as we 
don't know, we takes the candle out of the lantern and fastens it 
on the head of the o, and then runs it up the sewer, and if the fight 
stays in, we knows as there a'n't no danger. 

'The rats is wery dangerous, that's sartin, but we always goes 
three or four on us together, and the varmint's too wide awake to 
tackle us then, for they know they'd git off second best. You can 
go a long way in the sewers it you like; I don't know how far. I 
niver was at the end on them myself, for a cove can't stop in 
longer than six or seven hour, 'cause of the tide; you must be out 
before that's up. There's a many branches on ivery side, but we 
don't go into all; we go where we know, and where we're always 
sure to find somethink. I know a place now where there's more 
than two or three hundred weight of metal all rusted together, and 
plenty of money among it too; but it's too heavy to carry it out, 
so it '11 stop there I s'pose till the world comes to an end. I often 
brought out a piece of metal half a hundred in weight, and took it 
under the harch of the bridge, and broke it up with a large stone 
to pick out the money. 

'We shore- workers sometimes does very well other ways. When 
we hears of a fire anywheres, we goes and watches where they 

Mayhew^s London 337 

shoots the rubbish, and then we goes and sifts it over, and washes 
it afterwards, then all the metal sinks to the bottom. The way we 
does it is this here: we takes a barrel cut in half, and fills it with 
water, and then we shovels in the siftings, and stirs 'em round and 
round and round with a stick; then we throws out that water and 
puts in some fresh, and stirs that there round ag'in; arter some 
time the water gets clear, and every thing heavy's fell to the 
bottom, and then we sees what it is and picks it out. I've made 
from a pound to thirty shilling a day, at that there work on lead 
alone. The time the Parliament House was burnt, the rubbish was 

shot in Hyde Park, and Long J and I goes to work it, and 

while we were at it, we didn't make less nor three pounds apiece 
a day; we found sovereigns and half sovereigns, and lots of silver 
half melted away, and jewellery, such as rings, and stones, and 
brooches; but we never got half paid for them. We found so many 

things, that at last Long J and I got to quarrel about the 

"whacking"; there was cheatin' a goin' on; it wasn't all fair and 
above board as it ought to be, so we gits to fightin', and kicks up 
sich a jolly row, that they wouldn't let us work no more, and takes 
and buries the whole on the rubbish. There's plenty o' things under 
the ground along with it now, if anybody could git at them. There 
was jist two loads o' rubbish shot at one time in Bishop Bonner's- 
fields, which I worked by myself, and what do you think I made 
out of that there? — why I made 3/. 5s. The rubbish was got out 
of a cellar, what hadn't been stirred for fifty year or more, so 
I thinks there ought to be somethink in it, and I keeps my eye on 
it, and watches where it's shot; then I turns to work, and the first 
thing I gits hold on is a chain, which I takes to be copper; it was 
so dirty, but it turned out to be all solid goold, and I gets 11. 5s. 
for it from the Jew; arter that I finds lots o' coppers, and silver 
money, and many things besides. The reason I likes this sort of life 
is, 'cause I can sit down when I likes, and nobody can't order me 
about. When I'm hard up, I knows as how I must work, and then 
I goes at it like sticks a breaking; and tho' the times isn't as they 
was, I can go now and pick up my four or five bob a day, where 
another wouldn't know how to get a brass farden.' 

There is a strange tale in existence among the shore-workers, of 
a race of wild hogs inhabiting the sewers in the neighbourhood of 
Hampstead. The story runs, that a sow in young, by some accident 

338 Mayhevfs London 

got down the sewer through an opening, and, wandering away 
from the spot, littered and reared her offspring in the drain; feeding 
on the offal and garbage washed into it continually. Here, it is 
alleged, the breed multiplied exceedingly, and have become almost 
as ferocious as they are numerous. This story, apocryphal as it 
seems, has nevertheless its believers, and it is ingeniously argued, 
that the reason why none of the subterranean animals have been 
able to make their way to the light of day, is that they could only 
do so by reaching the mouth of the sewer at the river-side, while, in 
order to arrive at that point, they must necessarily encounter the 
Fleet ditch, which runs towards the river with great rapidity, and 
as it is the obstinate nature of a pig to swim against the stream, the 
wild hogs of the sewers invariably work their way back to their 
original quarters, and are thus never to be seen. What seems strange 
in the matter is, that the inhabitants of Hampstead never have 
been known to see any of these animals pass beneath the gratings, 
nor to have been disturbed by their gruntings. The reader of course 
can believe as much of the story as he pleases, and it is right to 
inform him that the sewer- hunters themselves have never yet 
encountered any of the fabulous monsters of the Hampstead sewers. 


There is another class who may be termed river-finders, although 
their occupation is connected only with the shore; they are com- 
monly known by the name of 'mud-larks,' from being compelled, 
in order to obtain the articles they seek, to wade sometimes up to 
their middle through the mud left on the shore by the retiring tide. 
These poor creatures are certainly about the most deplorable in 
their appearance of any I have met with in the course of my in- 
quiries. They may be seen of all ages, from mere childhood to 
positive decrepitude, crawling among the barges at the various 
wharfs along the river; it cannot be said that they are clad in rags, 
for they are scarcely half covered by the tattered indescribable 
things that serve them for clothing; their bodies are grimed with 
the foul soil of the river, and their torn garments stiffened up like 
boards with dirt of every possible description. 

Among the mud-larks may be seen many old women, and it is 
indeed pitiable to behold them, especially during the winter, bent 

Mayhem's London 3 39 

nearly double with age and infirmity, paddling and groping 
among the wet mud for small pieces of coal, chips of wood, or any 
sort of refuse washed up by the tide. These women always have 
with them an old basket or an old tin kettle, in which they put 
whatever they chance to find. It usually takes them a whole tide 
to fill this receptacle, but when filled, it is as much as the feeble 
old creatures are able to carry home. 

The mud-larks generally live in some court or alley in the neigh- 
bourhood of the river, and, as the tide recedes, crowds of boys and 
little girls, some old men, and many old women, may be observed 
loitering about the various stairs, watching eagerly for the oppor- 
tunity to commence their labours. When the tide is sufficiently low 
they scatter themselves along the shore, separating from each 
other, and soon disappear among the craft lying about in every 
direction. This is the case on both sides of the river, a3 high up as 
there is anything to be found, extending as far as Vauxhall-bridge, 
and as low down as Woolwich. The mud-larks themselves, however, 
know only those who reside near them, and whom they are accus- 
tomed to meet in their daily pursuits; indeed, with but few excep- 
tions, these people are dull, and apparently stupid; this is observ- 
able particularly among the boys and girls, who, when engaged in 
searching the mud, hold but little converse one with another. The 
men and women may be passed and repassed, but they notice no 
one; they never speak, but with a stolid look of wretchedness they 
plash their way through the mire, their bodies bent down while 
they peer anxiously about, and occasionally stoop to pick up some 
paltry treasure that falls in their way. 

The mud-larks collect whatever they happen to find, such as 
coals, bits of old-iron, rope, bones, and copper nails that drop from 
ships while lying or repairing along shore. Copper nails are the 
most valuable of all the articles they find, but these they seldom 
obtain, as they are always driven from the neighbourhood of a ship 
while being new-sheathed. Sometimes the younger and bolder 
mud-larks venture on sweeping some empty coal-barge, and one 
little fellow with whom I spoke, having been lately caught in the 
act of so doing, had to undergo for the offence seven days' imprison- 
ment in the House of Correction: this, he says, he liked much better 
than mud-larking, for while he staid there he wore a coat and shoes 
and stockings, and though he had not over much to eat, he certainly 

340 Mayhew^s London 

was never afraid of going to bed without anything at all — as he 
often had to do when at liberty. He thought he would try it on 
again in the winter, he told me, saying, it would be so comfortable 
to have clothes and shoes and stockings then, and not be obliged 
to go into the cold wet mud of a morning. 

The coals that the mud-larks find, they sell to the poor people of 
the neighbourhood at Id. per pot, holding about 14 lbs. The iron 
and bones and rope and copper nails which they collect, they 
sell at the rag-shops. They dispose of the iron at 5 lbs. for Id., the 
bones at 3 lbs. a Id., rope a \d. per lb. wet, and fd. per lb. dry, and 
copper nails at the rate of 4d. per lb. They occasionally pick up 
tools, such as saws and hammers; these they dispose of to the 
seamen for biscuit and meat, and sometimes sell them at the rag- 
shops for a few halfpence. In this manner they earn from 2\d. to 8d. 
per day, but rarely the latter sum; their average gains may be 
estimated at about 3d. per day. The boys, after leaving the river, 
sometimes scrape their trousers, and frequent the cab-stands, and 
try to earn a trifle by opening the cab-doors for those who enter 
them, or by holding gentlemen's horses. Some of them go, in the 
evening, to a ragged school, in the neighbourhood of which they 
live; more, as they say, because other boys go there, than from any 
desire to learn. 

At one of the stairs in the neighbourhood of the pool, I collected 
about a dozen of these unfortunate children; there was not one of 
them over twelve years of age, and many of them were but six. It 
would be almost impossible to describe the wretched group, so 
motley was their appearance, so extraordinary their dress, and so 
stolid and inexpressive their countenances. Some carried baskets, 
filled with the produce of their morning's work, and others old 
tin kettles with iron handles. Some, for want of these articles, had 
old hats filled with the bones and coals they had picked up; and 
others, more needy still, had actually taken the caps from their 
own heads, and filled them with what they had happened to find. 
The muddy slush was dripping from their clothes and utensils, 
and forming a puddle in which they stood. There did not appear 
to be among the whole group as many filthy cotton rags to their 
backs as, when stitched together, would have been sufficient to 
form the material of one shirt. There were the remnants of one or 
two jackets among them, but so begrimed and tattered that it 

Mayhem's London 341 

would have been difficult to have determined oither the origin il 
material or make of the garment. On questioning one, he said his 
father was a coal-backer; he had been dead eight years; the boy 
was nine years old. His mother was alive; she went out charing and 
washing when she could get any such work to do. She had Is. a day 
when she could get employment, but that was not often; he remem- 
bered once to have had a pair of shoes, but it was a long time since. 
'It is very cold in winter,' he said, 'to stand in the mud without 
shoes,' but he did not mind it in the summer. He had been three 
3 T ears mud-larking, and supposed he should remain a mud-lark all 
his life. What else could he be? for there was nothing else that he 
knew how to do. Some days he earned a \d., and some days Ad.; he 
never earned Sd. in one day, that would have been a 'jolty lot of 
money.' He never found a saw or a hammer, he 'only wished' he 
could, they would be glad to get hold of them at the dolly's. He 
had been one month at school before he went mud-larking. Some 
time ago he had gone to the ragged-school; but he no longer went 
there, for he forgot it. He could neither read nor write, and did 
not think he could learn if he tried 'ever so much.' He didn't know 
what religion his father and mother were, nor did know what 
religion meant. God was God, he said. He had heard he was good, 
but didn't know what good he was to him. He thought he was a 
Christian, but he didn't know what a Christian was. He had heard 
of Jesus Christ once, Avhen eh went to a Catholic chapel, but he 
never heard tell of who or what he was, and didn't 'particular 
care' about knowing. His father and mother were born in Aberdeen, 
but he didn't know where Aberdeen was. London was England, 
and England, he said, was in London, but he couldn't tell in what 
part. He could not tell where he would go to when he died, and 
didn't believe any one could tell that. Prayers, he told me, were 
what people said to themselves at night. He never said any, and 
didn't know any; his mother sometimes used to speak to him about 
them, but he could never learn any. His mother didn't go to church 
or to chapel, because she had no clothes. All the money he got he 
gave to his mother, and she bought bread with it, and when they 
had no money they lived the best way they could. 

Such was the amount of intelligence manifested by this unfor- 
tunate child. 

Another was only seven years old. He stated that his father was 

342 Mayhew's London 

a sailor who had been hurt on board ship, and been unable to go to 
sea for the last two years. He had two brothers and a sister, one 
of them older than himself; and his elder brother was a mud-lark 
like himself. The two had been mud-larking more than a year; they 
went because they saw other boys go, and knew that they got 
money for the things they found. They were often hungry, and 
glad to do anything to get something to eat. Their father was not 
able to earn anything, and their mother could get but little to do. 
They gave all the money they earned to their mother. They didn't 
gamble, and play at pitch and toss when they had got some money, 
but some of the big boys did on the Sunday, when they didn't go 
a mud-larking. He couldn't tell why they did nothing on a Sunday, 
'only they didn't'; though sometimes they looked about to see 
where the best place would be on the next day. He didn't go to 
the ragged school; he should like to know how to read a book, 
though he couldn't tell what good it would do him. He didn't like 
mud-larking, would be glad of something else, but didn't know 
anything else that he could do. 

Another of the boys was the son of a dock labourer, — casually 
employed. He was between seven and eight years of age, and his 
sister, who was also a mud-lark, formed one of the group. The 
mother of these two was dead, and there were three children 
younger than themselves. 

The rest of the histories may easily be imagined, for there was a 
painful uniformity in the stories of all the children: they were 
either the children of the very poor, who, by their own improvi- 
dence or some overwhelming calamity, had been reduced to the 
extremity of distress, or else they were orphans, and compelled 
from utter destitution to seek for the means of appeasing their 
hunger in the mud of the river. That the majority of this class are 
ignorant, and without even the rudiments of education, and that 
many of them from time to time are committed to prison for petty 
thefts, cannot be wondered at. Nor can it even excite our astonish- 
ment that, once within the walls of a prison, and finding how much 
more comfortable it is than their previous condition, they should 
return to it repeatedly. As for the females growing up under such 
circumstances, the worst may be anticipated of them; and in proof 
of this I have found, upon inquiry, that very many of the unfortu- 
nato creatures who swell the tide of prostitution in Ratclifif- 

Mayliew' s London 343 

highwa}', and other low neighbourhoods in the East of London, 
have originally been mud-larks; and only remained at that occupa- 
tion till such time as they were capable of adopting the more easy 
and more lucrative life of the prostitute. 

As to the numbers and earnings of the mud-larks, the following 
calculations fall short of, rather than exceed, the truth. From 
Execution Dock to the lower part of Limehouse Hole, there are 
14 stairs or landing-places, by which the mud-larks descend to the 
shore in order to pursue their employment. There are about as 
many on the opposite side of the water similarly frequented. 

At King James's Stairs, in Wapping Wall, which is nearly a 
central position, from 40 to 50 mud-larks go down daily to the 
river; the mud-larks 'using' the other stairs are not so numerous. 
If, therefore, we reckon the number of stairs on both side of the 
river at 28, and the average number of mud-larks frequenting 
them at 10 each, we shall have a total of 280. Each mud-lark, it 
has been shown, earns on a average 3d. a day, or 1**. Qd. per week; 
so that the annual earnings of each will be 31. 18s., or say 41. a year, 
and hence the gross earnings of the 280 will amount to rather more 
than 1,000£. per annum. 

But there are, in addition to the mud-larks employed in the 
neighbourhood of what may be called the pool, many others who 
work down the river at various places as far as Blackwall, on the 
one side, and at Deptford, Greenwich, and Woolwich, on the other. 
These frequent the neighbourhoods of the various 'yards' along 
shore, where vessels are being built; and whence, at certain times, 
chips, small pieces of wood, bits of iron, and copper nails, are 
washed out into the river. There is but little doubt that this 
portion of the class earn much more than the mud-larks of the 
pool, seeing that they are especially convenient to the places where 
the iron vessels are constructed; so that the presumption is, that 
the number of mud-larks 'at work' on the banks of the Thames 
(especially if we include those above bridge), and the value of the 
property extracted by them from the mud of the river, may be 
fairly estimated at double that which is stated above, or say 550 
gaining 2,000/. per annum. 

As an illustration of the doctrines I have endeavoured to enforce 
throughout this publication, I cite the following history of one of 
the above class. It may serve to teach those who are still sceptical 

344 May hew' s London 

as to the degrading influence of circumstances upon the poor, that 
many of the humbler classes, if placed in the same easy position as 
ourselves, would become, perhaps, quite as 'respectable' members 
of society. 

The lad of whom I speak was discovered by me now nearly two 
years ago 'mud-larking' on the banks of the river near the docks. 
He was a quick intelligent little fellow, and had been at the business, 
he told me, about three years. He had taken to mud-larking, he 
said, because his clothes were too bad for him to look for anything 
better. He worked every day, with 20 or 30 boys, who might all be 
seen at daybreak with their trousers tucked up, groping about, 
and picking out the pieces of coal from the mud on the banks of 
the Thames. He went into the river up to his knees, and in search- 
ing the mud he often ran pieces of glass and long nails into his feet. 
When this was the case, he went home and dressed the wounds, 
but returned to the river-side directly, 'for should the tide come 
up,' he added, 'without my having found something, why I must 
starve till next low tide.' In the very cold weather he and his other 
shoeless companions used to stand in the hot water that ran down 
the river side from some of the steam-factories, to warm their 
frozen feet. 

At first he found it difficult to keep his footing in the mud, and 
he had known many beginners fall in. He came to my house, at my 
request, the morning after my first meeting with him. It was the 
depth of winter, and the poor little fellow was nearly destitute of 
clothing. His trousers were worn away up to his knees, he had no 
shirt, and his legs and feet (which were bare) were covered with 
chilblains. On being questioned by me he gave the following 
account of his life: — 

He was fourteen years old. He had two sisters, one fifteen and 
the other twelve years of age. His father had been dead nine years. 
The man had been a coal-whipper, and, from getting his work 
from one of the publican employers in those days, had become a 
confirmed drunkard. When ho married he held a situation in a 
warehouse, where his wife managed the first year to save 41. 10s. 
out of her husband's earnings; but from the day he took to coal- 
whipping she had never saved one halfpenny, indeed she and her 
children were often left to starve. The man (whilst in a state of 
intoxication) had fallen between two barges, and the injuries he 

Mayhew^s London 345 

received had been so severe that he had lingered in a helpless state 
for three years before his death. After her husband's decease the 
poor woman's neighbours subscribed 11. 5s. for her; with this sum 
she opened a greengrocer's shop, and got on very well for five years. 
When the boy was nine years old his mother sent him to the 
Red Lion school at Green-bank, near Old Gravel-lane, Ratcliffe- 
highway; she paid Id. a week for his learning. He remained there 
for a year; then the potato-rot came, and his mother lost upon all 
she bought. About the same time two of her customers died 30s. 
in her debt; this loss, together with the potato-disease, completely 
ruined her, and the whole family had been in the greatest poverty 
from that period. Then she was obliged to take all her children 
from their school, that they might help to keep themselves as best 
they could. Her eldest girl sold fish in the streets, and the boy went 
to the river-side to 'pick up' his living. The change, however, was 
so great that shortly afterwards the little fellow lay ill eighteen 
weeks with the ague. As soon as the boy recovered his mother and 
his two sisters were 'taken bad' with a fever. The poor woman 
went into the 'Great House,' and the children were taken to the 
Fever Hospital. When the mother returned home she was too weak 
to work, and all she had to depend on was what her boy brought 
from the river. They had nothing to eat and no money until the 
little fellow had been down to the shore and picked up some coals, 
selling them for a trifle. 


Dtst and rubbish accumulate in houses from a variety of causes, 
but principally from the residuum of fires, the white ash and 
cinders, or small fragments of unconsumed coke, giving rise to by 
far the greater quantity. Some notion of the vast amount of this 
refuse annually produced in London may be formed from the fact 
that the consumption of coal in the metropolis is, according to the 
official returns, 3,")00,000 tons per annum, which is at the rate of 
a little more than 11 tons per house; the poorer families, it is true, 
do not burn more than 2 tons in the course of the year, but then 
many such families lesido in the same house, and hence the average 
will appear in no way excessive. Now the ashes and cinders arising 
from this enormous consumption of coal would, it is evident, if 

346 Mayhew^s London 

allowed to lie scattered about in such a place as London, render, 
ere long, not only the back streets, but even the important thor- 
oughfares, filthy and impassable. Upon the Officers of the various 
parishes, therefore, has devolved the duty of seeing that the refuse 
of the fuel consumed throughout London is removed almost as fast 
as produced; this they do by entering into an agreement for the 
clearance of the 'dust-bins' of the parishioners as often as required, 
with some person who possesses all necessary appliances for the 
purpose — such as horses, carts, baskets, and shovels, together with 
a plot of waste ground whereon to deposit the refuse. The persons 
with whom this agreement is made are called 'dust-contractors,' 
and are generally men of considerable wealth. 

Formerly the custom was otherwise; but then, as will be seen 
hereafter, the residuum of the London fuel was far more valuable. 
Not many years ago it was the practice for the various master dust- 
men to send in their tenders to the vestry, on a certain day appoint- 
ed for the purpose, offering to pay a considerable sum yearly to 
the parish authorities for liberty to collect the dust from the several 
houses. The sum formerly paid to the parish of Shad well, for 
instance, though not a very extensive one, amounted to between 
400Z. or 500Z. per annum; but then there was an immense demand 
for the article, and the contractors were unable to furnish a suf- 
ficient supply from London; ships were frequently freighted with 
it from other parts, especially from Newcastle and the northern 
ports, and at that time it formed an article of considerable inter- 
national commerce — the price being from 155. to 11. per chaldron. 
Of late years, however, the demand has fallen off greatly, while 
the supply has been progressively increasing, owing to the exten- 
sion of the metropolis, so that the Contractors have not only 
declined paying anything for liberty to collect it, but now stipulate 
to receive a certain sum for the removal of it. It need hardly be 
stated that the parishes always employ the man who requires the 
least money for the performance of what has now become a matter 
of duty rather than an object of desire. Some idea may be formed 
of the change which has taken place in this business, from the fact, 
that the aforesaid parish of Shad well, which formerly received the 
sum of 450/ . per annum for liberty to collect the dust, now pays the 
Contractor the sum of 2401. per annum for its removal. 

The Court of Sewers of the City of London, in 1846, through 

Mayhem's London 347 

the advice of Mr. Cochrane, the president of the National Philan- 
thropic Association, were able to obtain from the contractors the 
sum of 5,000/. for liberty to clear away the dirt from the streets and 
the dust from the bins and houses in that district. The year follow- 
ing, however, the contractors entered into a combination, and 
came to a resolution not to bid so high for the privilege; the result 
was, that they obtained their contracts at an expense of 2,200/. By 
acting on the same principle in the year after, they not only offered 
no premium whatever for the contract, but the City Commissioners 
of Sewers were obliged to pay them the sum of 300/. for removing 
the refuse, and at present the amount paid by the City is as much 
as 4,900/.! This is divided among four great contractors, and would, 
if equally apportioned, give them 1,250/. each. 

A dust- contractor, who has been in the business upwards of 20 
years, stated that, from his knowledge of the trade, he should 
suppose that at present there might be about 80 or 90 contractors 
in the metropolis. Now, according to the returns before given, 
there are within the limits of the Metropolitan Police District 176 
parishes, and comparing this with my informant's statement, that 
many persons contract for more than one parish (of which, indeed, 
he himself is an instance), there remains but little reason to doubt 
the correctness of his supposition — that there are, in all, between 
80 or 90 dust-contractors, large and small, connected with the 
metropolis. Assuming the aggregate number to be 88, there would 
be one contractor to every two parishes. 

These dust-contractors are likewise the contractors for the 
cleansing of the streets, except where that duty is performed by 
the Street-Orderlies; they are also the persons who undertake the 
emptying of the cesspools in their neighbourhood; the latter opera- 
tion, however, is effected by an arrangement between themselves 
and the landlords of the premises, and forms no part of their 
parochial contracts. At the office of the Street Orderlies in Leicester 
Square, they have knowledge of only 30 contractors connected 
with the metropolis; but this is evidently defective, and refers to 
the 'large masters' alone; leaving out of all consideration, as it 
does, the host of small contractors scattered up and down the 
metropolis, who are able to employ only two or three carts and six 
or seven men each; many of such small contractors being merely 
master sweeps who have managed to 'get on a little in the world,' 

348 Mayhew's London 

and who are now able to contract, 'in a small way,' for the removal 
of dust, street-sweepings, and night-soil. 

Computing the London dust-contractors at 90, and the inhabited 
houses at 300,000, it follows that each contractor would have 3.333 
houses to remove the refuse from. Now it has been calculated that 
the ashes and cinders alone from each house average about three 
loads per annum, so that each contractor would have, in round 
numbers, 10,000 loads of dust to remove in the course of the year. 
I find, from inquiries, that every two dustmen carry to the yard 
about five loads a day, or about 1,500 loads in the course of the 
year, so that at this rate, there must be between six and seven 
carts and twelve and fourteen collectors employed by each master. 
But this is exclusive of the men employed in the yards. In one yard 
that I visited there were fourteen people busily employed. Six of 
these were women, who were occupied in sifting, and they were 
attended by three men who shovelled the dust into their sieves, and 
the foreman, who was hard at work loosening and dragging down 
the dust from the heap, ready for the 'fillers-in.' Besides these there 
were two carts and four men engaged in conveying the sifted dust 
to the barges alongside the wharf. At a larger dust-yard, that 
formerly stood on the banks of the Regent's-canal, I am informed 
that there were sometimes as many as 127 people at work. It is 
but a small yard, which has not 30 or 40 labourers connected with 
it; and the lesser dust-yards have generally from four to eight 
sifters, and six or seven carts. There are, therefore, employed in a 
medium-sized yard twelve collectors or cartmen, six sifters, and 
three fillers-in, besides the foreman or forewoman, making alto- 
gether 22 persons; so that, computing the contractors at 90, and 
allowing 20 men to be employed by each, there would be 1,800 men 
thus occupied in the metropolis, which appears to be very near the 

The next part of the subject is — what becomes of this vast 
quantity of dust — to what use it is applied. 

The dust thus collected is used for two purposes, (1) as a manure 
for land of a peculiar quality; and (2) for making bricks. The fine 
portion of the house-dust called 'soil,' and separated from the 
'l>rieze,' or coarser portion, by sifting, is found to be peculiarly 
fitted for what is called breaking up a marshy healthy soil at its 
first cultivation, owing only to the dry nature of the dust, but 

Mayhevfs London 349 

to its possessing in an eminent degree a highly separating quality, 
almost, if not quite, equal to sand. In former years the demand 
for this finer dust was very great, and barges were continually in 
the river waiting their turn to be loaded with it for some distant 
part of the country. At that time the contractors were unable to 
supply the demand, and easily got 11. per chaldron for as much as 
they could furnish, and then, as I have stated, many ships were 
in the habit of bringing cargoes of it from the North, and of realiz- 
ing a good profit on the transaction. Of late years, however — and 
particularly, I am told, since the repeal of the corn-laws — this 
branch of the business has dwindled to nothing. The contractors 
say that the farmers do not cultivate their land now as they used; 
it will not pay them, and instead, therefore, of bringing fresh land 
into tillage, and especially such as requires this sort of manure, 
they are laying down that which they previously had in cultivation, 
and turning it into pasture grounds. It is principally on this 
account, say the contractors, that we cannot sell the dust we collect 
so well or so readily as formerly. There are, however, some cargoes 
of the dust still taken, particularly to the lowlands in the neigh- 
bourhood of Barking, and such other places in the vicinity of the 
metropolis as are enabled to realize a greater profit, by growing 
for the London markets. Nevertheless, the contractors are obliged 
now to dispose of the dust at 2s. Qd. per chaldron, and sometimes 
less. The finer dust is also used to mix with the clay for making 
bricks, and bargeloads are continually shipped off for this pur- 

But during the operation of sifting the dust, many things are 
found which are useless for either manure or brick-making, such 
as oyster shells, old bricks, old boots and shoes, old tin kettles, old 
rags and bones, &c. These are used for various purposes. 

The bricks, &c, are sold for sinking beneath foundations, where 
a thick layer of concrete is spread over them. Many old bricks, 
too, are used in making new roads, especially where the land is 
low and marshy. The old tin goes to form the japanned fastenings 
for the corners of trunks, as well as to other persons, who re-manu- 
facture it into a variety of articles. The old shoes are sold to the 
London shoemakers, who use them as stuffing between the in-sole 
and the outer one; but by far the greater quantity is sold to the 
manufacturers of Prussian blue, that substance being formed out 

350 Maijhew's London 

of refuse animal matter. The rags and bones are of course disposed 
of at the usual places — the marine-store shops. 

The dust-yards, or places where the dust is collected and sifted, 
are generally situated in the suburbs, and they may be found all 
round London, sometimes occupying open spaces adjoining back 
streets and lanes, and surrounded by the low mean houses of the 
poor; frequently, however, they cover a large extent of ground in 
the fields, and there the dust is piled up to a great height in a conical 
heap, and having much the appearance of a volcanic mountain. 

A visit to any of the large metropolitan dust-yards is far from 
uninteresting. Near the centre of the yard rises the highest heap, 
composed of what is called the 'soil,' or finer portion of the dust 
used for manure. Around this heap are numerous lesser heaps, 
consisting of the mixed dust and rubbish carted in and shot down 
previous to sifting. Among these heaps are many women and old 
men with sieves made of iron, all busily engaged in separating the 
'brieze' from the 'soil.' There is likewise another large heap in 
some other part of the yard, composed of the cinders or 'brieze' 
waiting to be shipped off to the brickfields. The whole yard seems 
alive, some sifting and others shovelling the sifted soil on to the 
heap, while every now and then the dust-carts return to discharge 
their loads, and proceed again on their rounds for a fresh supply. 
Cocks and hens keep up a continual scratching and cackling among 
the heaps, and numerous pigs seem to find great delight in rooting 
incessantly about after the garbage and offal collected from the 
houses and markets. 

In a dust-yard lately visited the sifters formed a curious sight; 
they were almost up their middle in dust, ranged in a semi-circle 
in front of that part of the heap which was being 'worked;' each 
had before her a small mound of soil which had fallen through her 
sieve and formed a sort of embankment, behind which she stood. 
The appearance of the entire group at their work was most peculiar. 
Their coarse dirty cotton gowns were tucked up behind them, their 
arms were bared above their elbows, their black bonnets crushed 
and battered like those of fish-women; over their gowns they wore 
a strong leathern apron, extending from their necks to the ex- 
tremities of their petticoats, while over this, again, was another 
leathern apron, shorter, thickly padded, and fastened by a stout 
string or strap round the waist. In the process of their work they 

Mayhew^s London 351 

pushed the sieve from them and drew it back again with apparent 
violence, striking it against the outer leathern apron with such 
force that it produced each time a hollow sound, like a blow on the 
tenor drum. All the women present were middle aged, with the 
exception of one who was very old — 68 years of age she told me — 
and had been at the business from a girl. She was the daughter of 
a dustman, the wife or woman of a dustman, and the mother of 
several young dustmen — sons and grandsons — all at work at the 
dust-yards at the east end of the metropolis. 

We now come to speak of the labourers engaged in collecting, 
sifting, or shipping off the dust of the metropolis. 

The dustmen, scavengers, and nightmen are, to a certain extent, 
the same people. The contractors generally agree with the various 
parishes to remove both the dust from the houses and the mud from 
the streets; the men in their employ are indiscriminately engaged 
in these two diverse occupations, collecting the dust to-day, and 
often cleansing the streets on the morrow, and are designated 
either dustmen or scavengers, according to their particular avoca- 
tion at the moment. The case is somewhat different, however, with 
respect to the nightmen. There is no such thing as a contract with 
the parish for removing the nightsoil. This is done by private 
agreement with the landlord of the premises whence the soil has 
to be removed. When a cesspool requires emptying, the occupying 
tenant communicates with the landlord, who makes an arrange- 
ment with a dust-contractor or sweep-nightman for this purpose. 
This operation is totally distinct from the regular or daily labour 
of the dust-contractor's men, who receive extra pay for it; some- 
times one set go out at night and sometimes another, according 
either to the selection of the master or the inclination of the men. 
There are, however, some dustmen who have never been at work 
as nightmen, and could not be induced to do so, from an invincible 
antipathy to the employment; still, such instances are few, for the 
men generally go whenever they can, and occasionally engage in 
night work for employers unconnected with their masters. 

There are four different modes of payment prevalent among the 
several labourers employed at the metropolitan dust-yards: — (1) by 
the day; (2) by the piece or load; (3) by the lump; (4) by perqui- 

1st. The foreman of the yard, where the master does not perform 

35 2 Mayhew's London 

this duty himself, is generally one of the regular dustmen picked 
out by the master, for this purpose. He is paid the sum of 2s. Qd. 
per day, or 15s. per week. 

2nd. The gangers or collectors are generally paid 8d. per load for 
every load they bring into the yard. This is, of course, piece work, 
for the more hours the men work the more loads will they be 
enabled to bring, and the more pay will they receive. 

3rd. The loaders of the carts for shipment are the same persons 
as those who collect the dust, but thus employed for the time being. 
The pay for this work is by the 'piece' also, 2d. per chaldron 
between four persons being the usual rate, or \d. per man. The men 
so engaged have no perquisites. 

4th. The carriers of cinders to the cinder heap. I have mentioned 
that, ranged round the sifters in the dust-yard, are a number of 
baskets, into which are put the various things found among the 
dust. The cinders and old bricks are the property of the master, 
and to remove them to their proper heaps boys are employed by 
him at Is. per day. These boys are almost universally the children 
of dustmen and sifters at work in the yard, and thus not only help 
to increase the earnings of the family, but qualify themselves to 
become the dustmen of a future day. 

5th. The hill-man or hill-woman. The hill-man enters into an 
agreement with the contractor to sift all the dust in the yard 
throughout the year at so much per load and perquisites. The 
usual sum per load is Gd. The perquisites of the hill- man or hill- 
woman, are rags, bones, pieces of old metal, old tin or iron vessels, 
old boots and shoes, and one-half of the money, jewellery, or other 
valuables that may be found by the sifters. 

The hill-man or hill-woman employs the following persons, and 
pays them at the following rates. 

1st. The sifters are paid Is. per day when employed. 

2nd. 'The fillcrs-in,' or shovellers of dust into the sieves of sifters, 
are in general any poor fellows who may be straggling about in 
search of employment. They are sometimes, however, the grown-up 
hoys of dustmen, not yet permanently engaged by the contractor. 
These are paid 2s. per day for their labour. 

3rd. The little fellows, the children of the dustmen, who follow 
their mothers to the yard, and help them to pick rags, bones, &c, 
out of the sieve and put them into the baskets, as soon as they are 

Mayhew^s London 35 3 

able to carry a basket between two of them to the separate heaps, 
are paid 3d. or 4rf. per day for this work by the hill-man. 

The wages of the dustmen have been increased within the last 
seven years from 6d. per load to 8d. among the large contractors — - 
the 'small masters,' however, still continue to pay Qd. per load. 
This increase in the rate of remuneration was owing to the men 
complaining to the commisioners that they were not able to live 
upon what they earned at Gd.; an enquiry was made into the truth 
of the men's assertion, and the result was that the commissioners 
decided upon letting the contracts to such parties only as would 
undertake to pay a fair price to their workmen. 

The dustmen are, generally speaking, an hereditary race; when 
children, they are reared in the dust-yard, and are habituated to the 
work gradually as they grow up, after which, almost as a natural 
consequence, they follow the business for the remainder of their 
lives. These may be said to be born-and-bred dustmen. The num- 
bers of the regular men are, however, from time to time recruited 
from the ranks of the many ill-paid labourers with which London 
abounds. When hands are wanted for any special occasion an 
employer has only to go to any of the dock-gates, to find at all 
times hundreds of starving wretches anxiously watching for the 
chance of getting something to do, even at the rate of 4d. per hour. 
As the operation of emptying a dust-bin requires only the ability 
to handle a shovel, which every labouring man can manage, all 
workmen, however unskilled, can at once engage in the occupation; 
and it often happens that the men thus casually employed remain 
at the calling for the remainder of their lives. There are no houses 
of call whence the men are taken on when wanting work. There 
are certainly public-houses, which are denominated houses of call, 
in the neighbourhood of every dust-yard, but these are merely the 
drinking shops of the men, whither they resort of an evening after 
the labour of the day is accomplished, and whence they are fur- 
nished in the course of the afternoon with beer; but such houses 
cannot be said t) constitute the dustman's 'labour-market.' as in 
the tailoring and other trades, they being never resorted to as 
hiring-places, but rather used by the men only when hired. If 
a master have not enough 'hands' he usually inquires among his 
men, who mostly know some who— owing, perhaps to the failure 
of their previous master in getting his usual contract — are only 

354 Mayhew's London 

casually employed at other places. Such men are immediately 
engaged in preference to others; but if these cannot be found, the 
contractors at once have recourse to the system already stated. 

The manner in which the dust is collected is very simple. The 
'filler' and the 'carrier' perambulate the streets with a heavily-built 
high box cart, which is mostly coated with a thick crust of filth, 
and drawn by a clumsy-looking horse. These men used, before 
the passing of the late Street Act, to ring a dull-sounding bell 
so as to give notice to housekeepers of their approach, but now they 
merely cry, in a hoarse unmusical voice, 'Dust oy-eh!' Two men 
accompany the cart, which is furnished with a short ladder and two 
shovels and baskets. These baskets one of the men fills from the 
dust-bin, and then helps them alternately, as fast as they are filled, 
upon the shoulder of the other man, who carries them one by one 
to the cart, which is placed immediately alongside the pavement 
in front of the house where they are at work. The carrier mounts 
up the side of the cart by means of the ladder, discharges into it 
the contents of the basket on his shoulder, and then returns below 
for the other basket which his mate has filled for him in the interim. 
This process is pursued till all is cleared away, and repeated at 
different houses till the cart is fully loaded; then the men make 
the best of their way to the dust-yard, where they shoot the con- 
tents of the cart on to the heap, and again proceed on their regular 

The dustmen, in their appearance, very much resemble the wag- 
goners of the coal-merchants. They generally wear knee-breeches, 
with ankle boots or gaiters, short smockfrocks or coarse grey 
jackets, and fantail hats. In one particular, however, they are 
at first sight distinguishable from the coal- merchants' men, for the 
latter are invariably black from coal dust, while the dust-men, on 
the contrary, are grey with ashes. 

In their personal appearance the dustmen are mostly tall stal- 
wart fellows; there is nothing sickly-looking about them, and yet 
a considerable part of their lives is passed in the yards and in the 
midst of effluvia most offensive, and, if we believe 'zymotic 
theorists,' as unhealthy to those unaccustomed to them; neverthe- 
less, the children, who may be said to be reared in the yard and to 
have inhaled the stench of the dust-heap with their first breath, 
are healthy and strong. 

May new 1 s London 355 

In London, the dustmen boast that, during both the recent 
visitations of the cholera, they were altogether exempt from the 
disease. 'Look at that fellow, sir!' said one of the dust-contractors 
to me, pointing to his son, who was a stout red-cheeked young man 
of about twenty. 'Do you see anything ailing about him? Well, he 
has been in the yard since he was born. There stands my house just 
at the gate, so you see he hadn't far to travel, and when quite a 
child he used to play and root away here among the dust all his 
time. I don't think he ever had a day's illness in his life. The people 
about the yard are all used to the smell and don't complain about 
it. It's all stuff and nonsense, all this talk about dust-yards being 
unhealthy. I've never done anything else all my days and I don't 
think I look very ill. I shouldn't wonder now but what I'd be set 
down as being fresh from the sea-side by those very fellows that 
write all this trash about a matter that they don't know just that 
about;' and he snapped his fingers contemptuously in the air, and, 
thrusting them into his breeches pockets, strutted about, ap- 
parently satisfied that he had the best of the argument. He was, in 
fact, a stout, jolly, red-faced man. Indeed, the dustmen, as a class, 
appear to be healthy, strong men, and extraordinary instances 
of longevity are common among them. I heard of one dustman 
who lived to be 115 years; another, named Wood, died at 100; 
and the well-known Richard Tyrrell died only a short time back 
at the advanced age of 97. The misfortune is, that we have no large 
series of facts on this subject, so that the longevity and health of 
the dustmen might be compared with those of other classes. 

In almost all their habits the Dustmen are similar to the Coster- 
mongers, with the exception that they seem to want their cunning 
and natural quickness, and that they have little or no predilection 
for gaming. Costermongers, however, are essentially traders, and 
all trade is a species of gambling — the risking of a certain sum of 
money to obtain more; hence spring, perhaps, tin- gambling 
propensities of low traders, such as costers, and Jew clot lies-men; 
and hence, too, that natural sharpness which characterizes tho 
same classes. The dustmen, on the contrary, have regular employ- 
ment and something like regular wages, and therefore rest content 
with what they can earn in their usual way of business. 

Very few of them understand cards, and 1 could not Learn that 
they ever play at 'pitch and toss.' I remarked, however, a number 

356 Mayhew^s London 

of parallel lines such as are used for playing 'shove halfpenny,' 
on a deal table in the tap-room frequented by them. The great 
amusement of their evenings seems to be, to smoke as many pipes 
of tobacco and drink as many pots of beer as possible. 

One-half, at least, of the dustmen's earnings, is, I am assured, 
expended on drink, both man and woman assisting in squandering 
their money in this way. They usually live in rooms for which they 
pay from Is. Qd. to 2s. per week rent, three or four dust-men and 
their wives frequently lodging in the same house. These rooms are 
cheerless-looking, and almost unfurnished — and are always situate 
in some low street or lane not far from the dust-yard. The men have 
rarely any clothes but those in which they work. For their break- 
fast the dustmen on their rounds mostly go to some cheap coffee- 
house, where they get a pint or half-pint of coffee, taking their 
bread with them as a matter of economy. Their midday meal is 
taken in the public-house, and is almost always bread and cheese 
and beer, or else a saveloy or a piece of fat pork or bacon, and at 
night they mostly 'wind up' by deep potations at their favourite 
house of call. 

There are many dustmen now advanced in years, born and 
reared at the East-end of London, who have never in the whole 
course of their lives been as far west as Temple-bar, who know 
nothing whatever of the affairs of the country, and who have never 
attended a place of worship. As an instance of the extreme ignor- 
ance of these people, I may mention that I was furnished by one 
of the contractors with the address of a dustman whom his master 
considered to be one of the most intelligent men in his employ. 
Being desirous of hearing his statement from his own lips I sent for 
the man, and after some conversation with him was proceeding to 
note down what he said, when the moment I opened my note-book 
and took the pencil in my hand, he started up, exclaiming, — 'No, 

no! I'll have none of that there work — I'm not such a b fool 

as you takes me to be — I doesn't understand it, I tells you, and 
I'll not have it, now that's plain;' — and so saying he ran out of 
the room, and descended the entire flight of stairs in two jumps. 
I followed him to explain, but unfortunately the pencil was still 
in one hand and the book in the other, and immediately I made 
my appearance at the door he took to his heels again, with three 
others who seemed to be waiting for him there. One of the most 

Mayhem's London 35 7 

difficult points in my labours is to make such men as these compre- 
hend the object or use of my investigations. 

Among 20 men whom I met in one yard, there were only five 
who could read, and only two out of that five could write, even 
imperfectly. These two are looked up to by their companions as 
prodigies of learning and are listened to as oracles, on all occasions, 
being believed to understand every subject thoroughly. It need 
hardly be added, however, that their acquirements are of the most 
meagre character. 

The dustmen are very partial to a song, and always prefer one 
of the doggerel street ballads, with what they call a 'jolly chorus' 
in which, during their festivities, they all join with stentorian 
voices. At the conclusion there is usually a loud stamping of feet 
and rattling of quart pots on the table, expressive of their appro- 

The dustmen never frequent the twopenny hops, but sometimes 
make up a party for the 'theaytre.' They generally go in a body 
u ith their wives, if married, and their 'gals,' if single. They are 
always to be found in the gallery, and greatly enjoy the melo- 
dramas performed at the second-class minor theatres, especially 
if there be plenty of murdering scenes in them. The Garrick, 
previous to its being burnt, was a favourite resort of the East-end 
dustmen. Since that period they have patronized the Pavilion and 
the City of London. 

The politics of the dustman are on a par with their literary 
attainments — they cannot be said to have any. I cannot say that 
they are Chartists, for they have no very clear knowledge of what 
'the charter' requires. They certainly have a confused notion that 
it is something against the Government, and that the enactment 
of it would make them all right; but as to the nature of the benefits 
which it would confer upon them, or in what manner it would be 
likely to operate upon their interest, they have not, as a body, 
the slightest idea. They have a deep-rooted antipathy to the police, 
the magistrates, and all connected with the administration of 
justice, looking upon them as their natural enemies. They associate 
with none but themselves; and in the public-houses where they 
resort there is a room set apart for the special use of the 'dusties,' 
as they are called, where no others are allowed to intrude, except 
introduced by one of themselves, or at the special desire of the 


35 8 Mayhew*8 London 

majority of the party, and on such occasions the stranger is treated 
with great respect and consideration. 

As to the morals of these people, it may easily be supposed that 
they are not of an over-strict character. One of the contractors said 
to vine, 'I'd just trust one of them as far as I could fling a bull by 
the tail; but then' he added, with a callousness that proved the 
laxity of discipline among the men was due more to his neglect of 
his duty to them than from any special perversity on their parts, 
'that's none of my business; they do my work, and that's all I want 
with them, and all I care about. You see they're not like other people, 
they're reared to it. Their fathers before them were dustmen, and 
when lads they go into the yard as sifters, and when they grow up 
they take to the shovel, and go out with the carts. They learn all 
they know in the dust-yards, and you may judge from that what 
their learning is likely to be. If they find anything among the dust 
you may be sure that neither you nor I will ever hear anything 
about it; ignorant as they are, they know a little too much for that. 
They know, as well as here and there one, where the dolly-shop is; 
but as I said before, that's none of my business. Let every one look 
out for themselves, as I do, and then they need not care for any one. 

'As to their women,' continued the master, T don't trouble my 
head about such things. I believe the dustmen are as good to them 
as other men; and I'm sure their wives would be as good as other 
women, if they only had the chance of the best. But you see they're 
all such fellows for drink that they spend most of their money 
that way, and then starve the poor women, and knock them 
about at a shocking rate, so that they have the life of dogs, or 
worse. I don't wonder at anything they do. Yes, they're all married, 
as far as I know; that is, they live together as man and wife, though 
they're not very particular, certainly, about the ceremony. The 
fact is, a regular dustman don't understand much about such 
matters, and, I believe, don't care much, either.' 

From all I could learn on this subject, it would appear that, for 
one dustman that is married, 20 live with women, but remain 
constant to them; indeed, both men and women abide faithfully 
by each other, and for this reason — the woman earns nearly half 
as much as the men. If the men and women were careful and 
prudent, they might, I am assured, live well and comfortable; but 
by far the greater portion of the earnings of both go to the publican, 

Mayhew^s London 35 9 

for I am informed, on competent authority, that a dustman will 
not think of sitting down for a spree without his woman. The 
children, as soon as they are able to go into the yard, help their 
mothers in picking out the rags, bones, &c, from the sieve, and in 
putting them in the basket. They are never sent to school, and as 
soon as they are sufficiently strong are mostly employed in some 
capity or other by the contractor, and in due time become dust- 
men themselves. Some of the children, in the neighbourhood of the 
river, are mud-larks, and others are bone-grubbers and rag- 
gatherers, on a small scale; neglected and thrown on their own 
resources at an early age, without any but the most depraved to 
guide them, it is no wonder to find that many of them turn thieves. 
To this state of the case there are, however, some few exceptions. 
I visited a large dust-yard at the east end of London, for the 
purpose of getting a statement from one of the men. My informant 
was, at the time of my visit, shovelling the sifted soil from one of 
the lesser heaps, and, by a great effort of strength and activity, 
pitching each shovel- full to the top of a lofty mound, somewhat 
resembling a pyramid. Opposite to him stood a little woman, 
stoutly made, and with her arms bare above the elbow; she was 
his partner in the work, and was pitching shovel-full for shovel-full 
with him to the summit of the heap. She wore an old soiled cotton 
gown, open in front, and tucked up behind in the fashion of the 
last century. She had clouts of old rags tied round her ankles to 
prevent the dust from getting into her shoes, a sort of coarse towel 
fastened in front for an apron, and a red handkerchief bound 
tightly round her head. In this trim she worked away, and not only 
kept pace with the man, but often threw two shovels for his one, 
although he was a tall, powerful fellow. She smiled when she saw 
me noticing her, and seemed to continue her work with greater 
assiduity. I learned that she was deaf, and spoke so indistinctly 
that no stranger could understand her. She had also a defect in her 
sight, which latter circumstance had compelled her to abandon 
the sifting, as she could not well distinguish the various articles 
found in the dust-heap. The poor creature had therefore taken to 
the shovel, and now works with it every day, doing the labour of 
the strongest men. 

360 Mayhem's London 



The subject I have now to treat — principally as regards street- 
labour, but generally in its sanitary J _social, and economical 
bearings — may really be termed vast. It is of the cleansing of 
a capital city, with its thousands of miles of streets and roads on 
the surface, and its thousands of miles of sewers and drains under 
the surface of the earth, / 


The following statement of his business, his sentiments, and, 
indeed, of the subjects which concerned him, or about which he 
was questioned, was given to me by a street-sweeper, so he called 
himself, for I have found, some of these men not to relish the 
appellation of 'scavager.'/He was a short, sturdy, somewhat red- 
faced man, without anything particular in his appearance to 
distinguish him from the mass of mere labourers, but with the 
sodden and sometimes dogged look of a man contented inJiis jgnor-^v 
ance, and — for it is not a very uncommon case — rather proud of it. } 

'I don't know how old I am,' he said — I have observed, by the 
by, that there is not any excessive vulgarity in these men's tones 
or accent so much as grossness in some of their expressions — 'and 
I can't see what that consarns any one, as I's old enough to have a 
jolly rough beard, and so can take care of myself. I should think so. 
My father was a sweeper, and I wanted to be a waterman, but 
father — he hasn't been dead long — didn't like the thoughts on it, 
as he said they was all drownded one time or 'nother; so I ran 
away and tried my hand as a Jack-in-the-water, but I was starved 

back in a week, and got a h of a clouting. After that I sifted a 

bit in a dust-yard, and helped in any way; and I was sent to help 
at and larn honey-pot and other pot making, at Deptford; but 
honey-pots was a great thing in the business. Master's foreman 
married a relation of mine, some way or other. I never tasted 
honey, but I've hecred it's like sugar and butter mixed. The pots 
was often wanted to look like foreign pots; I don't know nothing 
what was meant by it; some b dodge or other. No, the trade 

Mayheiv's London 36 1 

didn't suit me at all, master, so I left. I don't know why it didn't 
suit me; cause it didn't^ Just then, father had hurt his hand and 
arm, in a jam again' a cart, and so, as I was a big lad, I go t to tak e 

his place, and gave every satisfaction to Mr. . Yes, he was a 

contractor and a great man. I can't say as I knows how contract- 
ing^ done; but it's a bargain atween man and man. So I got on. 
I'm now looked on as a stunning good workman, I can tell you. 

Well, I can't say as I thinks sweeping the streets is hard work. 
I'd rather sweep two hours than shovel one. It tires one's arms 
and back so, to go on shovellling. You can't change, you see, sir, 
and the same parts keeps getting gripped more and more. Then 
you must mind your eye, if you're shovelling slop into a cart, 
perticler so; or some feller may run off with a complaint that he's 
been splashed o' purpose. Is a man eveer splashed o' purpose? No, 
sir, not as I knows on, in course not. [Laughing.] Why should he? 

The streets must be done as they're done now. It always was so, 
and will always be so. /Did I ever hear what London streets were 
like a thousand years ago? It's nothing to me, but they must have 
been like what they is now. Yes, there was always streets, or how 
was people that has tin to get their coals taken to them, and how 
was the public-houses to get their beer? It's talking nonsense, 
talking that w r ay, a -asking sich questions.' [As the scavenger seemed 
likely to lose his temper, I changed the subject of conversation]. 
'Yes,' he continued, T have good health. I never had a doctor 
but twice; once was for a hurt, and the t'other I won't tell on. Well, 
I think nightwork's healthful enough, but I'll not sa}' so much 
for it as you may hear some on 'em say. I don't like it, but I do it 
when I's obligated, under a necessity. It pays one as overwork; 
and wcrry like more one's in it, more one may be suited. I reckon 
no men works harder nor sich as me. 0, as to poor journeymen 
tailors and sich like, I knows they're stunning badly off, and many 
of their masters is the hardest of beggers. I have a nephew as works 
for a -Jew slop, but I don't reckon that work; anybody might do it. 
You think not, sir? Werry well, it's all the same. No, I won't say 
as I could make a veskit, but I've sowed my own buttons on to 
one afore now. 

'Yes, I've heered on the Board of Health. They've put down 
some night-yards, and if they goes on putting down more, what's 
to become of the night-soil? I can't think what they're up to; 

36 2 Mayhew's London 

but if they don't touch wages, it may be all right in the end on it. 
I don't know that them there consarns does touch wages, but one's 
naterally afeard on 'em. I could read a little when I was a child, 
but I can't now for want of practice, or I might know more about 
it. I yarns my money gallows hard, and requires support to do 
hard work, and if wages goes down, one's strength goes down. 
I'm a man as understands what things belongs. I was once out of 
work, through a mistake, for a good many weeks, perhaps five or 
six or more; I larned then what short grub meant. I got a drop of 
beer and a crust sometimes with men as I knowed, or I might have 
dropped in the street. What did I do to pass my time when I was 
out of work ? Sartinly the days seemed very long; but I went about 
and called at dust-yards, till I didn't like to go too often; and I 
met men I 'd know'd at tap-rooms, and spent time that way, and 
axed if there was any openings for work. I've been out of collar 
odd weeks now and then, but when this happened, I'd been on 
slack work a goodish bit, and was bad for rent three weeks and 
more. My rent was 2s. a week then; its Is. 9d. now, and my own 

'No, I can't say I was sorry when I was forced to be idle that 
way, that I hadn't kept up my reading, nor tried to keep it up, 
because I couldn't then have settled down my mind to read; I 
know I couldn't. I likes to hear the paper read well enough, if Fa 
resting; but old Bill, as often wolunteers to read, has to spell the 
hard words so, that one can't tell what the devil he's reading 
about. I never heers anything about books; I never heered of 
Robinson Crusoe, if it wasn't once at the Wic. [Victoria Theatre]; 
I think there was some sich a name there. He lived on a deserted 
island, did he, sir, all by hisself? Well, I think, now you mentions 
it, I have heered on him. But one needn't believe all one hears, 
whether out of books or not. I don't know much good that ever 
anybody as I knows ever got out of books; they're fittest for idlo 
people. Sartinly I've seen working people reading in coffee-shops; 
but they might as well be resting thcirselves to keep up their 
strength. Do I think so? I'm sure on it, master. I sometimes spends 
a few browns a-going to the play; mostly about Christmas. It's 
werry fine and grand at the Wic, that's the place I goes to most; 
both the pantomimers and t'other things is werry stunning. I can't 
say how much I spends a year in plays; I keeps no account; perhaps 



The London Scavenger 

Mayhem's London 365 

5s. or so in a year, including expenses, sich as beer, when one goes 
out after a stopper on the stage. I don't keep no accounts of what 
I gets, or what I spends, it would be no use; money comes and it 

goes, and it often goes a d d sight faster than it comes; so it 

seems to me, though I ain't in debt just at this time. 

'I never goes to any church or chapel. Sometimes I hasn't clothes' 
as is fit, and I s'pose I couldn't be admitted into sich fine places inj 
my working dress. I was once in a church, but felt queer, as one* 
does in them strange places, and never went again. They're fittest 
for rich people. Yes, I've heered about religion and about God 
Almighty. What religion have I heered on? Why, the regular 
religion. I'm satisfied with what I knows and feels about it, and 
that's enough about it. I came to tell you about trade and work, 

because Mr. told me it might do good; but religion hasn't 

nothing to do with it. Yes, Mr. 's a good master, and a religious 

man; but I've known masters as didn't care a d — n for religion, as 
good as him; and so you see it comes to much the same thing. 
I cares nothing about politics neither; but I'm a chartist. 

'I'm not a married man. I was a-going to be married to a young 
woman as lived with me a goodish bit as my housekeeper' [this he 
said very demurely]; 'but she went to the hopping to yarn a few 
shillings for herself, and never came back. I heered that she'd 
taken up with an Irish hawker, but I can't say as to the rights on 
it. Did I fret about her? Perhaps not; but I was wexed. 

'I'm sure I can't say what I spends my wages in. I sometimes 
makes 12s. 6d. a week, and sometimes better than 21s. with night- 
work. I suppose grub costs l.s. a day, and beer 6d.; but I keeps no 
accounts. I buy ready-cooked meat; often cold b'iled beef, and 
eats it at any tap-room. I have meat every day; mostly more than 
once a day. Wegetables I don't care about, only ingans and cab- 
bage, if you can get it smoking hot, with plenty of pepper. The rest 
of my tin goes for rent and baccy and togs, and a little drop of gin 
now and then.' 

There are yet accounts of habitations, statements of wanes, &c, 
&c, to be given in connection with men working for the honourable 
masters, before proceeding to the scurf-traders. 

jThe working scavengers usually reside in the neighbourhood of 
the dust-yards, occupying 'second-floor backs,' kitchens (where 
the entire house is sublet, a system often fraught with great extor- 

366 Mayhevfs London 

tion), or garrets; they usually, and perhaps always, when married, 
or what they consider 'as good,' have their own furniture] The 
rent runs from Is. Qd. to 2s. 3d. weekly, an average beingfls. 9d. 
or Is. lOd. One room which I was in was but barely furnished, — 
a sort of dresser, serving also for a table; a chest; three chairs (one 
almost bottomless): an old turn-up bedstead, a Dutch clock, with 
the minute-hand broken, or as the scavenger very well called it 
when he saw me looking at it, 'a stump;' an old 'corner cupboard,' 
and some pots and domestic utensils in a closet without a door, but 
retaining a portion of the hinges on which a door had swung. The 
rent was Is. lOd with a frequent intimation that it ought to be 2s. 
The place was clean enough, and the scavenger seemed proud of it, 
assuring me that his old woman (wife or concubine) was 'a good 
sort,' and kept things as nice as ever she could, washing everything 
herself, where 'other old women lushed.' The only ornaments in 
the room were three profiles of children, cut in black paper and 
pasted upon white card, tacked to the wall over the fire-place, for 
mantel-shelf there was none, while one of the three profiles, that 
of the eldest child (then dead), was 'framed,' with a glass, and a 
sort of bronze or 'cast' frame, costing, I was told, I5d. This was 
the apartment of a man in regular employ (with but a few excep- 

£The diet of the regular working scavenger (or nightman) seems 
generally to differ from that of mechanics, and perhaps of other 
working men, in the respect of his being fonder of salt and strong- 
flavovred food. I have before made the same remark concerning the 
diet of the poor generallyjl do not mean, however, that the scaven- 
gers are fond of such animal food as is called 'high,' for I did not 
hear that nightmen or scavengers were more tolerant of what 
approached putridity than other labouring men, despite their 
calling, might sicken at the rankness of some haunches of venison; 
but they have a great relish for highly-salted cold boiled beef, 
bacon, or pork, with a saucer-full of red pickled cabbage, or dingy- 
looking pickled onions, or one or two big, strong, raw onions, of 
which most of them seem as fond as Spaniards of garlic/^This sort 
of meat, sometimes profusely mustarded, is often eaten in the 
^ beer-shops with thick 'shives' of bread, cut into big mouthfuls 
with a clasp pocket-knife, while vegetables, unless indeed the beer- 
shop can supply a plate of smoking hot potatoes, are uncared for. 

Mayhew^s London 367 

The drink is usually beer. The same style of eating and the same 
kind of food characterize the scavenger and nightman, when 
taking his meal at home with his wife and family; but so irregular, 
and often of necessity, are these men's hours, that they may be 
said to have no homes, merely places to sleep or doze irjuJ 

A working scavenger and nightman calculated for me his expen- 
ses in eating and drinking, and other necessaries, for the previous 
week. He had earned 15s., but Is. of this went to pay off an advance 
of 5s. made to him by the keeper of a beer-shop, or, as he called it, 
a 'jerry.' 

Daily. Weekly. 
d. s. d. 

Rent of an unfurnished room 19 

Washing (average) 3 

[The man himself washed the dress in which 
he worked, and generally washed his own 

Shaving (when twice a week) 1 

Tobacco 1 7 

[Short pipes are given to these men at the 
beer-shops, or public-houses which they 'use.'] 

Beer 424 

[He usually spent more than 4d. a day in beer, 
he said, 'it was only a pot;' but this week 
more beer than usual had been given to 
him in night work.] 

Gin 2 12 

[The same with gin.] 

Cocoa (pint at a coffee-shop) l£ 10| 

Bread (quartern loaf) (sometimes 5^d.) . . .636 
Boiled salt beef (f lb. or \ lb. daily, 'as hap- 
pened,' for two meals, Gd. per pound, (average) .424 

Pickles or Onions OJ 1| 

Butter 1 

Soap 1 

li 2* 

Perhaps this informant was excessive in his drink. I believe he 
was so; the others not drinking so much regularly. The odd 9d., he 


36 8 Mayheiv's London 

told me, he paid to 'a snob,' because he said he was going to 
send his half-boots to be mended. 


There are many reasons why the chimney-sweepers have ever 
been a distinct and peculiar class. They have long been looked down 
upon as the lowest order of workers, and treated with contumely 
by those who were but little better than themselves. The peculiar 
nature of their work giving them not only a filthy appearance, but 
an offensive smell, of itself, in a manner, prohibited them from 
associating with other working men; and the natural effect of 
such proscription has been to compel them to herd together apart 
from others, and to acquire habits and peculiarities of their own 
widely differing from the characteristics of the rest of the labouring 

Sweepers, however, have not from this cause generally been an 
hereditary race — that is, they have not become sweepers from 
father to son for many generations. Their numbers were, in the days 
of the climbing boys, in most instances increased by parish appren- 
tices, the parishes usually adopting that mode as the cheapest and 
easiest of freeing themselves from a part of the burden of juvenile 
pauperism. The climbing boys, but more especially the unfortunate 
parish apprentices, were almost always cruelly used, starved, beaten, 
and over-worked by their masters, and treated as outcasts by 
all with whom they came in contact: there can be no wonder, then, 
that, driven in this manner from all other society, they gladly 
availed themselves of the companionship of their fellow-sufferers; 
quickly imbibed all their habits and peculiarities; and, perhaps, 
ended by becoming themselves the most tyrannical masters to those 
who might happen to be placed under their charge. 

Notwithstanding the disrepute in which sweepers have ever been 
held, there are many classes of workers beneath them in intelli- 
gence. All the tribe of finders and collectors (with the exception of 
the drcdgermen, who are an observant rare, and the sewer-hunt- 
ers, who, from the danger of their employment, are compelled to 
exercise their intellects) are far inferior to them in this respect; and 
they are clever fellows compared to many of the dustmen and 

Mayhew^s London 36 9 

scavengers. The great mass of the agricultural labourers are known 
to be almost as ignorant as the beasts they drive; but the sweepers, 
from whatever cause it may arise, are known, in many instances, 
to be shrewd, intelligent, and active. 

But there is much room for improvement among the operative 
chimney-sweepers. Speaking of the men generally, I am assured 
that there is scarcely one out of ten who can either read or write. 
One man in Chelsea informed me that some ladies, in connection 
with the Rev. Mr. Cadman's church, made an attempt to instruct 
the sweepers of the neighbourhood in reading and writing; but the 
master sweepers grew jealous, and became afraid lest their men 
should get too knowing for them. When the time came, therefore, 
for the men to prepare for the school, the masters always managed 
to find out some job which prevented them from attending at the 
appointed time, and the consequence was that the benevolent 
designs of the ladies were frustrated. 

The sweepers, as a class, in almost all their habits, bear a strong 
resemblance to the coster mongers. The habit of going about in 
search of their employment has, of itself, implanted in many of 
them the wandering propensity peculiar to street people. Many of 
the better-class costermongers have risen into coal-shed men and 
greengrocers, and become settled in life; in like manner the better- 
class sweepers have risen to be masters, and, becoming settled in a 
locality, have gradually obtained the trade of the neighbourhood; 
then, as their circumstances improved, they have been able to get 
horses and carts, and become nightmen; and there are many of 
them at this moment men of wealth, comparatively speaking. The 
great body of them, however, retain in all their force their original 
characteristics; the masters themselves, although shrewd and 
sensible men, often betray their want of education, and are in no 
way particular as to their expressions, their language being made 
up, in a great measure, of the terms peculiar to the costermongers, 
especially the denominations of the various sorts of money. I met 
with some sweepers, however, whose language was that in ordinary 
use, and their manners not vulgar. I might specify one, who al- 
though a workhouse orphan and apprentice, a harshly-treated 
climbing-boy, is now prospering as a sweeper and nightman, is a 
regular attendant at all meetings to promote the good of the poor, 
and a zealous ragged-school teacher, and teetotaller. 

370 Mayhew's London 

When such men are met with, perhaps the class cannot be looked 
upon as utterly cast away, although the need of reformation in the 
habits of the working sweepers is extreme, and especially in respect 
of drinking, gambling, and dirt. The journeymen (who have often 
a good deal of leisure) and the single-handed men are — in the 
great majority of cases at least — addicted to drinking, beer being 
their favourite beverage, either because it is the cheapest or that 
they fancy it the most suitable for washing away the sooty particles 
which find their way to their throats. These men gamble also, but 
with this proviso — they seldom play for money; but when they 
meet in their usual houses of resort — two famous ones are in Back 

C lane and S street, Whitechapel — they spend their time 

and what money they may have in tossing for beer, till they are 
either drunk or penniless. Such men present the appearance of 
having just come out of a chimney. There seems never to have been 
any attempt made by them to wash the soot off their faces. I am 
informed that there is scarcely one of them who has a second shirt 
or any change of clothes, and that they wear their garments night 
and day till they literally rot, and drop in fragments from their 
backs. Those who are not employed as journeymen by the masters 
are frequently whole days without food, especially in summer, when 
the work is slack; and it usually happens that those who are what 
is called 'knocking about on their own account' seldom or never 
have a farthing in their pockets in the morning, and may, perhaps, 
have to travel till evening before they get a threepenny or sixpenny 
chimney to sweep. When night comes, and they meet their com- 
panions, the tossing and drinking again commences; they again 
get drunk; roll home to wherever it may be, to go through the same 
routine on the morrow; and this is the usual tenor of their lives, 
whether earning 5s. or 20s a week. 

The chimney-sweepers generally are fond of drink; indeed their 
calling, like that of dustmen, is one of those which naturally lead 
to it. The men declare they are ordered to drink gin and smoke 
as much as they can, in order to rid the stomach of the soot they 
may have swallowed during their work. 

Washing among chimney-sweepers seems to be much more 
frequent than it was. In the evidence before Parliament it was 
stated that some of the climbing- boys were washed once in six 
months, some once a week, some once in two or three months. 

Mayhew^s London 37 1 

I do not find it anywhere stated that any of these children were 
never washed at all; but from the tenor of the evidence it may be 
reasonably concluded that such was the case. 

A master sweeper, who was in the habit of bathing at the Maryle- 
bone baths once and sometimes twice a week, assured me that, 
although many now eat and drink and sleep sooty, washing is more 
common among his class than when he himself was a climbing-boy. 
He used then to be stripped, and compelled to step into a tub, and 
into water sometimes too hot and sometimes too cold, while his 
mistress, to use his own word, scoured him. Judging from what he 
had seen and heard, my informant was satisfied that, from 30 to 
40 years ago, climbing-boys, with a very few exceptions, were but 
seldom washed; and then it was looked upon by them as a most 
disagreeable operation, often, indeed, as a species of punishment. 
Some of the climbing-boys used to be taken by their masters to 
bathe in the Serpentine many years ago: but one boy was unfor- 
tunately drowned, so that the children could hardly be coerced 
to go into the water afterwards. 

There are some curious customs among the London sweepers which 
deserve notice. Their May-day festival is among the best known. 
The most intelligent of the masters tell me that they have taken 
this 'from the milkmen's garland.' Formerly, say they, on the first 
of May the milkmen of London went through the streets, performing 
a sort of dance, for which they received gratuities from their custom- 
ers. The music to which they danced was simply brass plates 
mounted on poles, from the circumference of which plates depended 
numerous bells of different tones, according to size; these poles were 
adorned with leaves and flowers, indicative of the season, and may 
have been a relic of one of the ancient pageants or mummeries. 

The sweepers, however, by adapting themselves more to the 
rude taste of the people, appear to have completely supplanted the 
milkmen, who are now never seen in pageantry. 

With reference to the May-day festival of the sweepers Strutt 
writes in 'Sports and Pastimes of the People of England': — 'The 
chimney-sweepers of London have also singled out the first of May 
for their festival, at which time they parade the streets in com- 
panies, disguised in various manners. Their dresses are usually 
decorated with gilt paper and other mock fineries; they have their 
shovels and brushes in their hands, which they rattle one upon the 

37 2 Mayhem's London 

other; and to this rough music they jump about in imitation of 
dancing. Some of the larger companies have a fiddler with them, and 
a Jack in the Green, as well as a Lord and Lady of the May, who 
follow the minstrel with great stateliness, and dance as occasion 
requires. The Jack in the Green is a piece of pageantry consisting of 
a hollow frame of wood or wicker-work, made in the form of a sugar- 
loaf, but open at the bottom, and sufficiently large and high to 
receive a man. The frame is covered with green leaves and bunches 
of flowers, interwoven with each other, so that the man within may 
be completely concealed, who dances with his companions; and 
the populace are mightily pleased with the oddity of the moving 

Since the date of the above, the sweepers have greatly improved 
on their pageant, substituting for the fiddle the more noisy and 
appropriate music of the street-showman's drum and pipes, and 
adding to their party several diminutive imps, no doubt as repre- 
sentatives of the climbing-boys, clothed in caps, jackets, and trou- 
sers, thickly covered with party-coloured shreds. These still make a 
show of rattling their shovels and brushes, but the clatter is unheard 
alongside the thunders of the drum. In this manner they go through 
the various streets for three days, obtaining money at various 
places, and on the third night hold a feast at one of their favourite 
public-houses, where all the sooty tribes resort, and, in company 
with their wives or girls, keep up their festivity till the next morn- 
ing. I find that this festival is beginning to disappear in many parts 
of London, but it still holds its ground, and is as highly enjoyed as 
ever, in all the eastern localities of the metropolis. 

It is but seldom that any of the large masters go out on May-day; 
this custom is generally confined to the little masters and their men. 
The time usually spent on these occasions is four days, during which 
as much as from 21. to 4Z. a day is collected; the sums obtained on 
the three first days are divided according to the several kinds of 
work performed. But the proceeds of the fourth day are devoted to 
a supper. The average gains of the several performers on these 
occasions are as follows: — 

Mayhew's London 37 3 

My lady, who acts as Columbine, and receives 2s. per day. 
My lord, who is often the master himself, but 

usually one of the journeymen .... 3s. ,, 

Clown 3s. ,, 

Drummer 4s. ,, 

Jack in the green, who is often an individual 

acquaintance, and does not belong to the 

trade 3s. ,, 

And the boys, who have no term applied to 

them, receive from Is. to ls.Qd. „ 

The share accruing to the boys is often spent in purchasing some 
article of clothing for them, but the money got by the other indi- 
viduals is mostly spent in drink. 

The sweepers, however, not only go out on May-day, but like- 
wise on the 5th of November. On the last Guy-Fawkes day, I am 
informed, some of them received not only pence from the public, 
but silver and gold. 'It was quite a harvest,' they say. One of this 
class, who got up a gigantic Guy Fawkes and figure of the Pope 
on the 5th of November, 1850, cleared, I am informed, 10Z. over 
and above all expenses. 


In my inquiries among that curious body of men, the 'Sewer 
Hunters,' I found them make light of any danger, their principal 
fear being from the attacks of rats in case they became isolated from 
the gang with whom they searched in common, while they repre- 
sented the odour as a mere nothing in the way of unpleasantness. 
But these men pursued only known and (by them) beaten tracks 
at low water, avoiding any deviation, and so becoming but partially 
acquainted with the character and direction of the sewers. And 
had it been otherwise, they are not a class competent to describe 
what they saw, however kccn-eycd after silver spoon-!. 

The following account is derived chiefly from official sources. 
I may premise that where the deposit is found the unci test, the 
sewer is in the worst state. This deposit, I find it repeatedly stated, 
is of a most miscellaneous character. Some of the sewers, indeed, 

37 4 M ay hew' s London 

are represented as the dust-bins and dung-hills of the immediate 
neighbourhood. The deposit has been found to comprise all the 
ingredients from the breweries, the gas-works, and the several 
chemical and mineral manufactories; dead dogs, cats, kittens, and 
rats; offal from slaughter-houses, sometimes even including the 
entrails of the animals; street-pavement dirt of every variety; 
vegetable refuse; stable-dung; the refuse of pig-styes; night-soil; 
ashes; tin kettles and pans (panshreds); broken stoneware, as jars, 
pitchers, flower-pots, &c; bricks; pieces of wood; rotten mortar 
and rubbish of different kinds; and even rags. Our criminal annals 
of the previous century show that often enough the bodies of mur- 
dered men were thrown into the Fleet and other ditches then the 
open sewers of the metropolis, and if found washed into the Thames, 
they were so stained and disfigured by the foulness of the contents 
of these ditches, that recognition was often impossible, so that 
there could be but one verdict returned — 'Found drowned.' Clothes 
stripped from a murdered person have been, it was authenticated 
on several occasions in Old Bailey evidence, thrown into the open 
sewer ditches, when torn and defaced, so that they might not supply 
evidence of identity. So close is the connection between physical 
filthiness in public matters and moral wickedness. 

The following particulars show the characteristics of the under- 
ground London of the sewers. The subterranean surveys were made 
after the commissions were consolidated. 

'An old sewer, running between Great Smith-street and St. 
Ann-street (Westminster), is a curiosity among sewers, although it 
is probably only one instance out of many similar constructions 
that will be discovered in the course of the subterranean survey. 
The bottom is formed of planks laid upon transverse timbers, 
6 inches by 6 inches, about 3 feet apart. The size of the sewer varies 
in width from 2 to 6 feet, and from 4 to 5 feet in height. The inclina- 
tion of the bottom is very irregular: there are jumps up at two or 
three places, and it contains a deposit of filth averaging 9 inches 
in depth, the sickening smell from which escapes into the houses 
and yards that drain into it. In many places the side walls have 
given way for lengths of 10 and 15 feet. Across this sewer timbers 
have been laid, upon which the external wall of a workshop has 
been built; the timbers are in a decaying state, and should they 
givo way, the wall will fall into the sewer.' 

Mayhew^s London 37 5 

From the further accounts of this survey, I find that a sewer 
from the Westminster Workhouse, which was of all shapes and 
sizes, was in so wretched a condition that the leveller could scarcely 
work for the thick scum that covered the glasses of the spirit-level 
in a few minutes after being wiped. 'At the outfall into the Dean- 
street sewer, it is 3 feet 6 inches by 2 feet 8 inches for a short length. 
From the end of this, a wide sewer branches in each direction at 
right angles, 5 feet 8 inches by 5 feet 5 inches. Proceeding to the 
eastward about 30 feet, a chamber is reached about 30 feet in 
length, from the roof of which hangings of putrid matter like stalact- 
ites descend three feet in length. At the end of this chamber, the 
sewer passes under the public privies, the ceilings of which can be 
seen from it. Beyond this it is not possible to go.' 

'In the Lucas-street sewer, where a portion of new work begins 
and the old terminates, a space of about 10 feet has been covered 
with boards, which, having broken, a dangerous chasm has been 
caused immediately under the road.' 

'The West-street sewer had one foot of deposit. It was flushed 
while the levelling party was at work there, and the stream was so 
rapid that it nearly washed them away, instrument and all.' 

There are further accounts of 'deposit,' or of 'stagnant filth,' 
in other sewers, varying from 6 to 14 inches, but that is insignificant 
compared to what follows. 

The foregoing, then, is the pith of the first authentic account 
which has appeared in print of the actually surveyed condition of 
the subterranean ways, over which the super-terranean tides of 
traffic are daily flowing. 

The account I have just given relates to the (former) Westminster 
and part of Middlesex district on the north bank of the Thames, 
as ascertained under the Metropolitan Commission. I now give 
some extracts concerning a similar survey on the south bank, in 
different and distant directions in the district, once the 'Surrey 
and Kent.' The Westminster, &c, survey took place in 1848; the 
Kent and Surrey in 1849. In the one case, 72 miles of sewers were 
surveyed; in the other, 69 J miles. 

'The surveyors (in the Surrey and Kent sewers) find great 
difficulty in levelling the sewers of this district (I give the words of 
the Report); for, in the first place, the deposit is usually about two 
feet in depth, and in somo cases it amounts to nearly five feet of 

376 Mayhew's London 

putrid matter. The smell is usually of the most horrible description, 
the air being so foul that explosion and choke damp are very 
frequent. On the 12th January we were very nearly losing a whole 
party by choke damp, the last man being dragged out on his back 
(through two feet of black foetid deposits) in a state of insensibility. 
. . . Two men of one party had also a narrow escape from drowning 
in the Alscot-road sewer, Rotherhithe. 

'The sewers on the Surrey side are very irregular; even where 
they are inverted they frequently have a number of steps and 
inclinations the reverse way, causing the deposit to accumulate 
in elongated cesspools. 

Tt must be considered very fortunate that the subterranean 
parties did not first commence on the Surrey side, for if such had 
been the case, we should most undoubtedly have broken down. 
When compared with Westminster, the sewers are smaller and 
more full of deposit; and, bad as the smell is in the sewers in West- 
minster, it is infinitely worse on the Surrey side.' 

Several details are then given, but they are only particulars of 
the general facts I have stated. 

The following, however, are distinct facts concerning this branch 
of the subject. 

In my inquiries among the working scavengers I often heard of 
their emptying street slop into sewers, and the following extract 
shows that I was not misinformed: — 

'The detritus from the macadamized roads frequently forms a 
kind of grouting in the sewers so hard that it cannot be removed 
without hand labour. 

'One of the sewers in Whitehall and another in Spring-gardens 
have from three to four feet of this sort of deposit; and another 
in Eaton-square was found filled up within a few inches of the 
"soffit," but it is supposed that the scavengers (scavagers) emptied 
the road-sweepings down the gully-grate in this instance;' and in 
other instances, too, there is no doubt — especially at Charing Cross, 
and the Regent Circus, Piccadilly. 

Concerning the sewerage of the most aristocratic parts of the 
city of Westminster, and of the fashionable squares, &c, to the 
north of Oxford -street, I glean the following particulars (reported 
in 1S49). They show, at any rate, that the patrician quarters have 
not been unduly favoured; that there has been no partiality in the 

Mayhem's London 37 7 

construction of the sewerage. In the Belgrave and Eaton-square 
districts there are many faulty places in the sewers which abound 
with noxious matter, in many instances stopping up the house 
drains and 'smelling horribly.' It is much the same in the Grosvenor, 
Hanover, and Berkeley-square localities (the houses in the squares 
themselves included). Also in the neighbourhood of Covent-garden, 
Clare-market, Soho and Fitzroy-squares; while north of Oxford- 
street, in and about Cavendish, Bryanston, Manchester, and 
Portman-squares, there is so much rottenness and decay that there 
is no security for the sewers standing from day to day, and to flush 
them for the removal of their 'most loathsome deposit' might be 
'to bring some of them down altogether.' 

One of the accounts of a subterranean survey concludes with 
the following rather curious statement: — 'Throughout the new 
Paddington district the neighbourhood of Hyde Park Gardens, 
and the costly squares and streets adjacent, the sewers abound 
with the foulest deposit, from which the most disgusting effluvium 
arises; indeed, amidst the whole of the Westminster District of 
Sewers the only little spot which can be mentioned as being in at 
all a satisfactory state is the Seven Dials.' 

I may point out also that these very curious and authenticated 
accounts by no means bear out the zymotic doctrine of the Board 
of Health as to the cause of cholera; for where the zymotic influ- 
ences from the sewers were the worst, in the patrician squares of 
what has been called Belgravia and Tyburnia, the cholera was the 
least destructive. This, however, is no reason whatever why the 
stench should not be stifled. 


I will now state what I have learned from long-experienced men, 
as to the characteristics of the rats in the sewers. To arrive even at 
a conjecture as to the numbers of these creatures — now, as it were, 
the population of the sewers — I found impossible, for no statistical 
observations have been made on the subject; but all my informants 
agreed that the number of the animals had been greatly diminished 
within these four or five years. 

In the better-constructed sewers there are no rats. In the old 
sewers they abound. The sewer rat is the ordinary house or brown 

37 8 Mayhew's London 

rat, excepting at the outlets near the river, and here the water-rat 
is seen. 

The sewer-rat is the common brown or Hanovarian rat, said by 
the Jacobites to have come in with the first George, and established 
itself after the fashion of his royal family; and undoubtedly such 
was about the era of their appearance. One man, who had worked 
twelve years in the sewers before flushing was general, told me he 
had never seen but two black (or old English) rats; another man, 
of ten years' experience, had seen but one; others had noted no 
difference in the rats. I may observe that in my inquiries as to the 
sale of rats (as a part of the live animals dealt in by a class in 
the metropolis), I ascertained that in the older granaries, where 
there were series of floors, there were black as well as brown 
rats. Great black fellows,' said one man who managed a Bermond- 
sey granary, 'as would frighten a lady into asterisks to see of a 

The rat is the only animal found in the sewers. I met with no 
flusherman or other sewer-worker who had ever seen a lizard, 
toad, or frog there, although the existence of these creatures, in 
such circumstances, has been presumed. A few live cats find their 
way into the subterranean channels when a house-drain is being 
built, or is opened for repairs, or for any purpose, and have been 
seen by the flushermen, &c, wandering about, looking lost, mewing 
as if in misery, and avoiding any contact with the sewage. The rats 
also — for they are not of the water-rat breed — are exceedingly 
averse to wetting their feet, and 'take to the sewage,' as it was 
worded to me, only in prospect of danger; that is, they then swim 
across or along the current to escape with their lives. It is said that 
when a luckless cat has ventured into the sewers, she is sometimes 
literally worried by the rats. I could not hear of such an attack 
having been witnessed by any one; but one intelligent and trust- 
worthy man said, that a few years back (he believed about eight 
years) he had in one week found the skeletons of two cats in a 
particular part of an old sewer, 21 feet wide, and in the drains 
opening into it were perfect colonies of rats, raging with hunger, 
he had no doubt, because a system of trapping, newly resorted to, 
had prevented their usual ingress into the houses up the drains. A 
portion of their fur adhered to the two cats, but the flesh had been 
eaten from their bones. About that time a troop of rats flew at the 

Mayhew^s London 37 9 

feet of another of my informants and would no doubt have maimed 
him seriously, 'but my boots,' said he, 'stopped the devils.' 'The 
sewers generally swarms with rats,' said another man. 'I runs 
away from 'em; I don't like 'em. They in general gets away from 
us; but in case we comes to a stunt end where there's a wall and 
no place for 'em to get away, and we goes to touch 'em, they fly at 
us. They've some of 'em as big as good-sized kittens. One of our 
men caught hold of one the other day by the tail, and he found it 
trying to release itself, and the tail slipping through his fingers; 
so he put up his left hand to stop it, and the rat caught hold of his 
finger, and the man's got an arm now as big as his thigh.' I heard 
from several that there had been occasionally battles among the 
rats, one with another. 

'Why sir,' said one flusherman, 'as to the number of rats, it 
ain't possible to say. There hasn't been a census (laughing) taken of 
them. But I can tell you this — I Avas one of the first flushermen 
when flushing came in general — I think it was before Christmas, 
1847, under Mr. Roe — and there was cart-loads and cart-loads of 
drowned rats carried into the Thames. It was in a West Strand 
shore that I saw the most. I don't exactly remember which, but I 
think Northumberland-street. By a block or a hitch of some sort, 
there was, I should say, just a bushel of drowned rats stopped at 
the corner of one of the gates, which I swept into the next stream. 
I see far fewer drowned rats now than before the shores was flushed. 
They're not so plenty, that's one thing. Perhaps, too, they may 
have got to understand about flushing, they're that 'cute and 
manage to keep out of the way. About Newgate- market was at one 
time the worst for rats. Men couldn't venture into the sewers then, 
on account of the varmint. It's bad enough still, I hear, but I 
haven't worked in the City for a few years.' 

The rats, from the best information at my command, do not 
derive much of their sustenance from the matter in the sewers, or 
only in particular localities. These localities are the sewers neigh- 
bouring a connected series of slaughter-houses, as in Newgate- 
market, Whitechapel, Clare-market, parts adjoining Smithfield- 
market, &c. There, animal offal being (and having been to a much 
greater extent five or six years ago) swept into the drains and sew- 
ers, the rats find their food. In the sewers, generally, there is little 
food for them, and none at all in the best-constructed sewers, where 

380 Mayhem's London 

there is a regular and sometimes rapid flow, and little or no 

The sewers are these animals' breeding grounds. In them the 
broods are usually safe from the molestation of men, dogs, or cats. 
These 'breeding grounds' are sometimes in the holes (excavated 
by the industry of the rats into caves) which have been formed in 
the old sewers by a crumbled brick having fallen out. Their nests, 
however, are in some parts even more frequent in places where old 
rotting large house-drains or smaller sewers, empty themselves 
into a first-class sewer. Here, then, the rats breed, and, in spite of 
precautions, find their way up the drains or pipes, even through the 
openings into water-closets, into the houses for their food, and 
almost always at night. Of this fact, builders and those best 
informed, are confident, and it is proved indirectly by what I have 
stated as to the deficiency of food for a voracious creature in all the 
sewers except a few. One man, long in the service of the Commission- 
ers of Sewers, and in different capacities, gave me the following 
account of what may be called a rat settlement. The statement I 
found confirmed by other working men, and by superior officers 
under the same employment. 

'Why, sir, in the Milford-lane sewer, a goodish bit before you 
get to the river, or to the Strand — I can't say how far, a few hun- 
dred yards perhaps — I've seen, and reported, what was a regular 
chamber of rats. If a brick didn't fall out from being rotted, the 
rats would get it out, and send it among the other rubbish into the 
sewer, for this place was just the corner of a big drain. I couldn't 
get into the rat-hole, of course not, but I've brought my lamp 
to the opening, and — as well as others — have seen it plain. It was 
an open place like a lot of tunnels, one over another. Like a lot of 
rabbit burrows in the country — as I've known to be — or like the 
partitions in the pigeon-houses: one here and another there. The 
rat-holes, as far as I could tell, were worked one after another. I 
should say, in moderation, that it was the size of a small room; 
well, say about 6 yards by 4. I can't say about the height from 
the lowest tunnel to the highest. I don't see that any one could. 
Bless you, sir, I've sometimes hcerd the rats fighting and squeaking 
there, like a parcel of drunken Irishmen — I have indeed. Some 
of them were rare big fellows. If you threw the light of your lamp 
on them sudden, they'd be off like a shot. Well, I should say, there 

Mayhew's London 381 

was 100 pair of rats there — there might be more, besides all their 
young-uns. If a poor cat strayed into that sewer she dursn't tackle 
the rats, not she. There's lots of such places, sir, here, and there, 
and everywhere.' 


That portion of the London street-folk who earn a scanty living 
by sweeping crossings constitute a large class of the Metropolitan 
poor. We can scarcely walk along a street of any extent, or pass 
through a square of the least pretensions to 'gentility,' without 
meeting one or more of these private scavengers. Crossing-sweeping 
seems to be one of those occupations which are resorted to as an 
excuse for begging; and, indeed, as many expressed it to me, 'it 
was the last chance left of obtaining an honest crust.' 

The advantages of crossing-sweeping as a means of livelihood 
seem to be: 

1st, the smallness of the capital required in order to commence 
the business; 

2ndly, the excuse the apparent occupation affords for soliciting 
gratuities without being considered in the light of a street- beggar; 

And 3rdly, the benefits arising from being constantly seen in the 
same place, and thus exciting the sympathy of the neighbouring 
householders, till small weekly allowances or 'pensions' are ob- 

The first curious point in connexion with this subject is what 
constitutes the 'property,' so to speak, in a crossing, or the right to 
sweep a pathway across a certain thoroughfare. A nobleman, 
who has been one of Her Majesty's Ministers, whilst conversing 
with me on the subject of crossing-sweepers, expressed to me the 
curiosity he felt on the subject, saying that he had noticed some 
of the sweepers in the same place for years. 'What were the rights 
of property,' he asked, 'in such cases, and what constituted the 
title that such a man had to a particular crossing? Why did not 
the stronger sweeper supplant the weaker? Could a man bequeath 
a crossing to a son, or present it to a friend? How did he first obtain 
the spot?' 

The answer is, that crossing-sweepers are, in a measure, under 
the protection of the police. If the accommodation afforded by a 

382 Mayheufs London 

well-swept pathway is evident, the policeman on that district will 
protect the original sweeper of the crossing from the intrusion of 
a rival. I have, indeed, met with instances of men who, before 
taking to a crossing, have asked for and obtained permission of the 
police; and one sweeper, who gave me his statement, had even 
solicited the authority of the inhabitants before he applied to the 
inspector at the station-house. 

If a crossing have been vacant for some time, another sweeper 
may take to it; but should the original proprietor again make his 
appearance, the officer on duty will generally re-establish him. 
One man to whom I spoke, had fixed himself on a crossing which 
for years another sweeper had kept clean on the Sunday morning 
only. A dispute ensued; the one claimant pleading his long Sabbath 
possession, and the other his continuous everyday service. The 
quarrel was referred to the police, who decided that he who was 
oftener on the ground was the rightful owner; and the option was 
given to the former possessor, that if he would sweep there every 
day the crossing should be his. 

I believe there is only one crossing in London which is in the 
gift of a householder, and this proprietorship originated in a trades- 
man having, at his own expense, caused a paved footway to be 
laid down over the macadamized road in front of his shop, so that 
his customers might run less chance of dirtying their boots when 
they crossed over to give their orders. 

Some bankers, however, keep a crossing-sweeper, not only to 
sweep a clean path for the 'clients' visiting house, but to open 
and shut the doors of the carriages calling at the house. 

Concerning the causes which lead or drive people to this occupa- 
tion, they are various. People take to crossing- sweeping either on 
account of their bodily afflictions, depriving them of the power of 
performing ruder work, or because the occupation is the last re- 
source left open to them of earning a living, and they considered 
even the scanty subsistence it yields preferable to that of the work- 
house. The greater proportion of crossing-sweepers are those who, 
from some bodily infirmity or injury, are prevented from a more 
laborious mode of obtaining their living. Among the bodily in- 
firmities the chief are old age, asthma, and rheumatism; and the 
injuries mostly consist of loss of limbs. Many of the rheumatic 
sweepers have been bricklayers' labourers. 

Mayhew's London 383 

The classification of crossing-sweepers is not very complex. They 
may be divided into the casual and the regular. 

By the casual I mean such as pursue the occupation only on 
certain days in the week, as, for instance, those who make their 
appearance on the Sunday morning, as well as the boys who, broom 
in hand, travel about the streets, sweeping before the foot-passen- 
gers or stopping an hour at one place, and then, if not fortunate, 
moving on to another. 

The regular crossing-sweepers are those who have taken up their 
posts at the corners of streets or squares; and I have met with some 
who have kept to the same spot for more than forty years. 

The crossing-sweepers in the squares may be reckoned among 
the most fortunate of the class. With them the crossing is a kind of 
stand, where any one requiring their services knows they may be 
found. These sweepers are often employed by the butlers and 
servants in the neighbouring mansions for running errands, posting 
letters, and occasionally helping in the packing-up and removal 
of furniture or boxes when the family goes out of town. I have met 
with other sweepers who, from being known for years to the inhabit- 
ants, have at last got to be regularly employed at some of the 
houses to clean knives, boots, windows, &c. 

It is not at all an unfrequent circumstance, however, for a sweep- 
er to be in receipt of a weekly sum from some of the inhabitants 
in the district. The crossing itself is in these cases but of little value 
for chance customers, for were it not for the regular charity of the 
householders, it would be deserted. Broken victuals and old clothes 
also form part of a sweeper's means of living; nor are the clothes 
always old ones, for one or two of this class have for years been in 
the habit of having new suits presented to them by the neighbours 
at Christmas. 

The irregular sweepers mostly consist of boys and girls who 
have formed themselves into a kind of company, and come to an 
agreement to work together on the same crossings. The principal 
resort of these is about Trafalgar-square, where they have seized 
upon some three or four crossings, which they visit from time to 
time in the course of the day. 

One of these gangs I found had appointed its king and captain, 
though the titles were more honorary than privileged. They had 
framed their own laws respecting each one's right to the money he 

38 4 Mayhew^s London 

took, and the obedience to these laws was enforced by the strength 
of the little fraternity. 

One or two girls whom I questioned, told me that they mixed 
up ballad-singing or lace-selling with crossing-sweeping, taking to 
the broom only when the streets were wet and muddy. These 
children are usually sent out by their parents, and have to carry 
home at night their earnings. A few of them are orphans with a 
lodging-house for a home. 

Taken as a class, crossing-sweepers are among the most honest 
of the London poor. They all tell you that, without a good character 
and 'the respect of the neighbourhood,' there is not a living to be 
got out of the broom. Indeed, those whom I found best-to-do in the 
world were those who had been longest at their posts. 

Among them are many who have been servants until sickness or 
accident deprived them of their situations, and nearly all of them 
have had their minds so subdued by affliction, that they have been 
tamed so as to be incapable of mischief. 

The earnings, or rather 'takings,' of crossing-sweepers are difficult 
to estimate — generally speaking — that is, to strike the average for 
the entire class. An erroneous idea prevails that crossing-sweeping 
is a lucrative employment. All whom I have spoken with agree in 
saying, that some thirty years back it was a good living; but they 
bewail piteously the spirit of the present generation. I have met 
with some who, in former days, took their 31. weekly; and there 
are but few I have spoken to who would not, at one period, have 
considered fifteen shillings a bad week's work. But now 'the takings' 
are very much reduced. The man who was known to this class as 
having been the most prosperous of all — for from one nobleman 
alone he received an allowance of seven shillings and sixpence 
weekly — assured me that twelve shillings a- week was the average 
of his present gains, taking the year round; whilst the majority of 
the sweepers agree that a shilling is a good day's earnings. 

A shilling a-day is the very limit of the average incomes of the 
London sweepers, and this is rather an over than an under calcula- 
tion; for, although a few of the more fortunate, who are to be found 
in the squares or main thoroughfares or opposite the public build- 
ings, may earn their twelve of fifteen shillings a- week, yet there are 
hundreds who are daily to be found in the by-streets of the metro- 
polis who assert that eightcenpence a-day is their average taking; 

Mayhew's London 385 

and, indeed, in proof of their poverty, they refer you to the work- 
house authorities, who allow them certain quartern-loaves weekly. 
The old stories of delicate suppers and stockings full of money have 
in the present day no foundation of truth. 

The black crossing-sweeper, who bequeathed 500Z. to Miss 
Waithman, would almost seem to be the last of the class whose 
earnings were above his positive necessities. 

Lastly, concerning the numbers belonging to this large class, we 
may add that it is difficult to reckon up the number of crossing- 
sweepers in London. There are few squares without a couple of 
these pathway scavengers; and in the more respectable squares, 
such as Cavendish or Portman, every corner has been seized upon. 
Again, in the principal thoroughfares, nearly every street has its 
crossing and attendant. 



'Billy' is the popular name of the man who for many years has 
swept the long crossing that cuts off one corner of Cavendish- 
square, making a 'short-cut' from Old Cavendish-street to the 
Duke of Portland's mansion. 

Billy is a merry, good-tempered kind of man, with a face as red 
as a love-apple, and cheeks streaked with little veins. 

His hair is white, and his eyes are as black and bright as a 
terrier's. He can hardly speak a sentence without finishing it off 
with a moist chuckle. 

His clothes have that peculiar look which arises from being often 
wet through, but still they are decent, and far above what his class 
usually wear. The hat is limp in the brim, from being continually 

The day when I saw Billy was a wet one, and he had taken refuge 
from a shower under the Duke of Portland's stone gateway. His 
tweed coat, torn and darned, was black about the shoulders with 
the rain-drops, and his boots grey with mud, but, he told me, 'It 
was no good trying to keep clean shoes such a day as that, 'cause 
the blacking come off in the puddles.' 

Billy is 'well up' in the Court Guide. He continually stopped in 

386 Mayhew's London 

his statement to tell whom my Lord B. married, or where my Lady 
C. had gone to spend the summer, or what was the title of the 
Marquis So-and-So's eldest boy. 

He was very grateful, moreover, to all who had assisted him, 
and would stop looking up at the ceiling, and God-blessing them all 
with a species of religious fervour. 

His regret that the good old times had passed, when he made 
'hats full of money,' was unmistakably sincere; and when he had 
occasion to allude to them, he always delivered his opinion upon 
the late war, calling it 'a cut-and-run affair,' and saying that it 
was 'nothing at all put alongside with the old war, when the half- 
pence and silver coin were twice as big and twenty times more 
plentiful' than during the late campaign. 

Without the least hesitation he furnished me with the following 
particulars of his life and calling: — 

'I was born in London, in Cavendish-square, and (he added, 
laughing) I ought to have a title, for I first came into the world at 
No. 3, which was Lord Bessborough's then. My mother went there 
to do her work, for she chared there, and she was took sudden and 
couldn't go no further. She couldn't have chosen a better place, 
could she? You see I was born in Cavendish-square, and I've 
worked in Cavendish-square — sweeping a crossing — for now near 
upon fifty year. 

'Until I was nineteen — I'm sixty-nine now — I used to sell water- 
creases, but they felled off and then I dropped it. Both mother and 
myself sold water- creases after my Lord Bessborough died; for 
whilst he lived she wouldn't leave him not for nothing. 

'We used to do uncommon well at one time; there wasn't nobody 
about then as there is now. I've sold flowers, too; they was very 
good then; they was mostly show carnations and moss roses, and 
such-like, but no common flowers — it wouldn't have done for me 
to sell common things at the houses I used to go to. 

'The reason why I took to a crossing was, I had an old father 
and I didn't want him to go to the workus. I didn't wish too to do 
anything bad myself, and I never would — no, sir, for I've got as 
good a character as the first nobleman in the land, and that's 
a fine thing, ain't it? So as water-creases had fell off till they wasn't 
a living to me, I had to do summat else to help me to live. 

'I saw the crossing-sweepers in Westminster making a deal of 

Mayhew's London 387 

money, so I thought to myself I'll do that, and I fixed upon Caven- 
dish-square, because, I said to myself, I'm known there; it's 
where I was born, and there I set to work. 

'The very first day I was at work I took ten shillings. I never 
asked nobody; I only bowed my head and put my hand to my hat, 
and they knowed what it meant. 

'By jingo, when I took that there I thought to myself, What a 
fool I've been to stop at water- creases! 

'For the first ten year I did uncommon well. Give me the old- 
fashioned way; they were good times then; I like the old-fashioned 
way. Give me the old penny pieces, and then the eighteen-penny 
pieces, and the three-shilling pieces, and the seven- shilling pieces — 
give me them, I says. The day the old half-pence and silver was 
cried down, that is, the old coin was called in to change the cur- 
rency, my hat wouldn't hold the old silver and halfpence I was given 
that afternoon. I had such a lot, upon my word, they broke my 
pocket. I didn't know the money was altered, but a fish-monger 
says to me, "Have you got any old silver?" I said "Yes, I've got 
a hat full;" and then says he, "Take 'em down to Couttseses and 
change 'em." I went, and I was nearly squeeged to death. 

'That was the first time I was like to be killed, but I was nigh 
killed again when Queen Caroline passed through Cavendish- 
square after her trial. They took the horses out of her carriage and 
pulled her along. She kept a chucking money out of the carriage, 
and I went and scrambled for it, and I got five-and-twenty shillin, 
but my hand was nigh smashed through it; and, says a friend of 
mine, before I went, "Billy," says he, "don't you go"; and I was 
sorry after I did. She was a good woman, she was. The Yallers, 
that is, the king's party, was agin her, and pulled up the paving- 
stones when her funeral passed; but the Blues was for her. 

'I can remember, too, the mob at the time of the Lord Castle- 
reagh riots. They went to Portman-square and broke all the win- 
ders in the house. They pulled up all the rails to purtect theirselves 
with I went to the Bishop of Durham's, and hid myself in the 
coal-cellar then. My mother chared there, too. The Bishop of 
Durham and Lord Harcourt opened their gates and hurrah'd 
the mob, so they had nothing of theirs touched; but whether 
they did it through fear or not I can't say. The mob was carrying 
a quartern loaf dipped in bullock's blood, and when I saw it 

388 Mayhem's London 

I thought it was a man's head; so that frightened me, and I 
run off. 

'I remember, too, when Lady Pembroke's house was burnt to 
the ground. That's about eighteen years ago. It was very lucky the 
family wasn't in town. The housekeeper was a nigh killed, and 
they had to get her out over the stables; and when her ladyship 
heard she was all right, she said she didn't care for the fire since 
the old dame was saved, for she had lived along with the family 
for many years. No, bless you, sir! I didn't help at the fire; I'm too 
much of a coward to do that. 

'All the time the Duke of Portland was alive he used to allow 
me 7s. Qd. a-week, which was Is. a-day and Is. 6d. for Sundays. 
He was a little short man, and a very good man he was too, for it 
warn't only me as he gave money to, but to plenty others. He was 
the best man in England for that. 

'Lord George Bentinck, too, was a good friend to me. He was 
a great racer, he was, and then he turned to be member of parlia- 
ment, and then he made a good man they tell me; but he never 
corned over my crossing without giving me something. He was at 
the corner of Holly Street, he was, and he never put foot on my 
crossing without giving me a sovereign. Perhaps he wouldn't cross 
more than once or twice a month, but when he corned my way 
that was his money. Ah! he was a nice feller, he was. When he give 
it he always put it in my hand and never let nobody see it, and 
that's the way I like to have my fee give me. 

'There's Mrs. D , too, as lived at No. 6; she was a good 

friend of mine, and always allowed me a suit of clothes a-year; 
but she's dead, good lady, now. 

'Dr. C and his lady, they, likewise, was very kind friends 

of mine, and gave me every year clothes, and new shoes, and 
blankets, aye, and a bed, too, if I had wanted it; but now they are 

all dead, down to the coachman. The doctor's old butler, Mr. , 

he gave me twenty-five shillings the day of the funeral, and, says he, 
"Bill, I'm afraid this will be the last." Poor good friends they was all 
of them, and I did feel cut up when I see the hearse going off. 

'There was another gentleman, Mr. W. T , who lives in 

Harley-street; he never come by me without giving me half-a- 
crown. He was a real good gentleman; but I haven't seen him for 
a long time now, and perhaps he's dead too. 

Mayhew's London 3 89 

'All my friends is dropping off. I'm fifty-five, and they was men 
when I was a boy. All the good gentlemen's gone, only the bad 
ones stop. 

'Another friend of mine is Lord B . He always drops me a 

shilling when he comes by; and, says he, "You don't know me, but 
I knows you, Billy." But I do know him, for my mother worked for 
the family many a year, and, considering I was born in the house, 
I think to myself, "If I don't know you, why I ought." He's a hand- 
some, stout young chap, and as nice a gentleman as any in the 

'One of the best friends I had was Prince E , as lived there 

in Chandos-street, the bottom house yonder. I had five sovereigns 
give me the day as he was married to his beautiful wife. Don't you 
remember what a talk there was about her diamonds, sir? They 
say she was kivered in 'em. He used to put his hand in his pocket 
and give me two or three shillings every time he crossed. He was 
a gentleman as was uncommon fond of the gals, sir. He'd go and 
talk to all the maid-servants round about, if they was only good- 
looking. I used to go and ring the hairy bells for him, and tell the 
gals to go and meet him in Chapel-street. God bless him! I says, 
he was a pleasant gentleman, and a regular good 'un for a bit of 
fun, and always looking lively and smiling. I see he's got his old 
coachman yet, though the Prince don't live in England at present, 
but his son does, and he always gives me a half-crown when he 
comes by too. 

T gets a pretty fine lot of Christmas boxes, but nothing like what 

I had in the old times. Prince E always gives me half a crown, 

and I goes to the butler for it. Pretty near all my friends gives me 
a box, them as knows me, and they say, "Here's a Christmas box, 

'Last Christmas-day I took 36s., and that was pretty fair; but, 
bless you, in the old times I've had my hat full of money. I tells 
you again I've have had as much as 5/. in old times, all in old silver 
and halfpence; that was in the old war, and not this run-away 
shabby affair. 

'My crossing has been a good living to me and mine. It's kept 
the whole of us. Ah! in the old time I dare say I've made as much 
as 21. a week reg'lar by it. Besides, I used to have lots of broken 
vittals, and I can tell you I know'd where to take 'em to. Ah! I've 

39 M ay hew' s London 

had as much food as I could carry away, and reg'lar good stuff — 
chicken, and some things I couldn't guess the name of, they was so 
Frenchified. When the fam'lies is in town I gets a good lot of food 
given me, but you know when the nobility and gentlemen are away 
the servants is on board wages, and cuss them board wages, 
I says. 

'I buried my father and mother as a son ought to. Mother was 
seventy-three and father was sixty-five, — good round ages, ain't 
they, sir? I shall never live to be that. They are lying in St. John's 
Wood cemetery along with many of my brothers and sisters, which 
I have buried as well. I've only two brothers living now; and, poor 
fellows, they're not very well to do. It cost me a good bit of money. 
I pay 2s. Qd. a-year for keeping up the graves of each of my parents, 
and Is. 2d. for my brothers. 

'There was the Earl of Gainsborough as I should like you to 
mention as well, please sir. He lived in Chandos-street, and was a 
particular nice man and very religious. He always gave me a 
shilling and a tract. Well, you see, I did often read the tract; they 
was all religious, and about where your souls was to go to — very 
good, you know, what there was, ver}^ good; and he used to buy 
'em wholesale at a little shop, corner of High-street, Marrabum. 
He was a very good, kind gentleman, and gave away such a deal 
of money that he got reg'lar known, and the little beggar girls 
follered him at such a rate that he was at last forced to ride about 
in a cab to get away from 'em. He's many a time said to me, when 
he's stopped to give me my shilling. "Billy, is any of 'em follering 
me?" He was safe to give to every body as asked him, but you see 
it worried his soul out — and it was a kind soul, too — to be follered 
about by a mob. 

T don't take 4s. a- week on the crossing. Ah! I wish you'd give 
me 4s. for what I take. No, I make up by going of errands. I runs 
for the fam'lies, and the servants, and any of 'em. Sometimes they 
sends me to a bankers with a cheque. Bless you! they'd trust me 
with anythink, if it was a hat full. I've had a lot of money trusted 
to me at times. At one time I had as much as 83Z. to carry for the 
Duke of Portland. 

'Aye, that was a go — that was! You see the hall-porter had had 
it give to him to carry to the bank, and he gets me to do it for him; 
but the vallet heerd of it, so he wanted to have a bit of fun, and he 

Mayhew's London 391 

wanted to put the hall-porter in a funk. I met the vallet in Holborn, 
and says he, "Bill, I want to have a lark," so he kept me back, and 
I did not get back till one o'clock. The hall-porter offered 5/. reward 
for me, and sends the police: but Mr. Freebrother, Lord George's 
vallet, he says, "I'll make it all right, Billy." They sent up to my 
poor old people, and says father. "Billy wouldn't rob anybody of a 
nightcap, much more SOL" I met the policeman in Holborn, and 
says he, "I want you, Billy," and says I, "All right, here I am." 
When I got home the hall-porter, says he, "Oh, I am a dead man; 
where's the money?" and says I, "It's lost." "Oh! it's the Duke's, 
not mine." says he. Then I pulls it out; and says the porter, "It's 
a lark of Freebrother's." So he gave me 21. to make it all right. That 
was a game, and the hall-porter, says he, "I really thought you was 
gone, Billy;" but, says I, "If everybody carried as good a face as I 
do, everybody would be as honest as any in Cavendish- square'." 


Since the destruction by fire of the Royal Exchanges in 1838, there 
has been added to the curiosities of Cornhill a thickset, sturdy, and 
hirsute crossing-sweeper — a man who is as civil by habit as he is 
independent by nature. He has a long flowing beard, grey as wood 
smoke, and a pair of fierce moustaches, giving a patriarchal air of 
importance to a marked and observant face, which often serves as 
a painter's model. After half-an-hour's conversation, you are forced 
to admit that his looks do not all belie him, and that the old 
mariner (for such was his profession formerly) is worthy in some 
measure of his beard. 

He wears an old felt hat — very battered and discoloured; around 
his neck, which is bared in accordance with sailor custom, he has 
a thick blue cotton neckerchief tied in a sailor's knot; his long iron- 
grey beard is accompanied by a healthy and almost ruddy face. 
He stands against the post all day, saying nothing, and taking what 
he can get without solicitation. 


A wild-looking man, with long straggling grey hair, which stood 
out from his head as if he brushed it the wrong way, and whiskers 
so thick and curling that they reminded one of the wool round a 

39 2 Mayhem's London 

sheep's face. He seemed a kind-hearted, innocent creature, half 
scared by want and old age. 

'I'm blest if I can tell which is the best crossing in London; 
but mine ain't no great shakes, for I don't take three shillings v 
a- week, not with persons going across, take one week with another; 
but I thought I could get a honest currust (crust) at it, for I've got 
a crippled hand, which corned of its own accord, and I was in St. 
George's Hospital seven weeks. When I coined out it was a cripple 
with me, and I thought the crossing was better than my going into 
the workhouse — for I likes my liberty. 

'I've been on this crossing since last Christmas was a twelve- 
month. Before that I was a bricklayer and plasterer. I've been 
thirty-two years in London. I can get as good a character as any 
one anywhere, please God.' 


A man who had stationed himself at the end of Regent-street, near 
the County Fire Office, was far superior to the ordinary run of 
sweepers, and had formerly been a gentleman's servant. His 
costume was of that peculiar miscellaneous description which 
showed that it had from time to time been given to him in charity. 
A dress-coat so marvellously tight that the stitches were stretching 
open, a waistcoat with a remnant of embroidery, and a pair of 
trousers which wrinkled like a groom's top-boot, had all evidently 
been part of the wardrobe of the gentlemen whose errands he had 
run. His boots were the most curious portion of his toilette, for they 
were large enough for a fisherman, and the portion unoccupied by 
the foot had gone flat and turned up like a Turkish slipper, 

He spoke with a tone and manner which showed some education. 
Once or twice whilst I was listening to his statement he insisted 
upon removing some dirt from my shoulder, and, on leaving, he 
by force seized my hat and brushed it — all which habits of attention 
he had contracted whilst in service. I was surprised to see stuck in 
the wristband of his coat-sleeve a row of pins, arranged as neatly 
as in the papers sold at the mercers'. 


He was an old man, with a forehead so wrinkled that the dark, 
waved lines reminded me of the grain of oak. His thick hair was, 

Mayheiv's London 39 3 

despite his great age — which was nearly seventy — still dark ; and as he 
conversed with me, he was continually taking off his hat, and wiping 
his face with what appeared to be a piece of flannel, about a foot square. 
His costume was of what might be called 'the all-sorts' kind, 
and, from constant wear, it had lost its original colour, and had 
turned into a sort of dirty green-grey hue. It consisted of a waist- 
coat of tweed, fastened together with buttons of glass, metal, and 
bone; a tail-coat, turned brown with weather, a pair of trousers 
repaired here and there with big stitches, like the teeth of a comb, 
and these formed the extent of his wardrobe. Around the collar 
of the coat and waistcoat, and on the thighs of the pantaloons, the 
layers of grease were so thick that the fibre of the cloth was choked 
up, and it looked as if it had been pieced with bits of leather. 



She is the widow of a sweep — 'as respectable and 'dustrious a 
man,' I was told, 'as any in the neighbourhood of the "Borough;" 
he was a short man, sir, — very short,' said my informant, 'and 
had a weakness for top-boots, white hats, and leather breeches,' 
and in that unsweeplike costume he would parade himself up and 
down the Dover and New Kent-roads. He had a capital con- 
nexion (or, as his widow terms it, 'seat of business'), and left 
behind him a good name and reputation that would have kept the 
'seat of business' together, if it had not been for the misconduct 
of the children; two of them (sons) have been transported, while 
a daughter 'went wrong,' though she, wretched creature, paid a 
fearful penalty, I learnt, for her frailties, having been burnt to 
death in the middle of the night, through a careless habit of smok- 
ing in bed. 

The old sweeper herself, eighty years of age, and almost beyond 
labour, very deaf, and rather feeble to all appearance, yet manages 
to get out every morning between four and five, so as to catch the 
workmen and 'time-keepers' on their way to the factories. She 
has the true obsequious curtsey, but is said to be very strong in her 
'likes and dislikes.' 

She bears a good character, though sometimes inclining, I was 

394 Mayhew^s London 

informed, towards 'the other half-pint,' but never guilty of any 
excess. She is somewhat profuse in her scriptural ejaculations and 
professions of gratitude. 


She is to be found any day between eight in the morning and 
seven in the evening, sweeping away in a convulsive, jerky sort of 

manner, close to square, near the Foundling. She may be 

known by her pinched-up straw bonnet, with a broad, faded, 
almost colourless ribbon. She has weak eyes, and wears over them a 
brownish shade. Her face is tied up, because of a gathering which 
she has on her head. She wears a small, old plaid cloak, a clean 
checked apron, and a tidy printed gown. 

She is rather shy at first, but willing and obliging enough withal; 

and she lives down Little Yard, in Great street. The 

'yard' that is made like a mousetrap — small at the entrance, but 
amazingly large inside, and dilapidated though extensive. 

Here are stables and a couple of blind alleys, nameless, or bearing 
the same name as the yard itself, and wherein are huddled more 
people than one could count in a quarter of an hour, and more 
children than one likes to remember, — dirty children, listlessly 
trailing an old tin baking-dish, or a worn-out shoe, tied to a piece 
of string; sullen children, who turn a way in a fit of sleepy anger if 
spoken to; screaming children, setting all the parents in the 'yard' 
at defiance; and quiet children, who are arranging banquets of 
dirt in the reeking gutters. 

The 'yard' is devoted principally to costermongers. 

The crossing-sweeper, lives in the top-room of a two-storied 
house, in the very depth of the blind alley at the end of the yard. 
She has not even a room to herself, but pays one shilling a week 
for the privilege of sleeping with a woman who gets her living by 
selling tapes in the streets. 



'I'm a Sunday crossing-sweeper,' said an oyster-stall keeper, in 

answer to my inquiries. T mean by that, I only sweep a crossing 

Mayhem's London 395 

on a Sunday. I pitch in the Lorrimore-road, Newington, with a 
few oysters on week-days, and I does jobs for the people about 
there, sich as cleaning a few knives and forks, or shoes and boots, 
and windows. I've been in the habit of sweeping a crossing about 
four of five years. 

'I never knowed my father, he died when I was a baby. He 
was a 'terpreter, and spoke seven different languages. My father 
used to go with Bonaparte's army, and used to 'terpret for him. 
He died in the South of France. I had a brother, but he died quite 
a child, and my mother supported me and a sister by being cook in 
a gentleman's family; we was put out to nurse. My mother couldn't 
afford to put me to school, and so I can't read nor write. I'm forty- 
one years old. 

'The best places is in front of chapels and churches, 'cause you 
can take more money in front of a church or a chapel than wot 
you can in a private road, 'cos they look at it more, and a good 
many thinks when you sweeps in front of a public-house that you 
go and spend your money inside in waste. 

'The first Sunday I went at it, I took eighteenpence. I began 
at nine o'clock in the morning and stopped till four in the afternoon. 
The publican give fourpence, and the baker sixpence, and the 
butcher threepence, so that altogether I got above a half-crown. 
I stopped at this crossing a year, and I always knocked up about 
two shillings or a half-crown on the Sunday. I very seldom got 
anythink from the ladies; it was most all give by the gentlemen. 
Little children used sometimes to give me ha'pence, but it was 
when their father give it to 'em; the little children like to do that 
sort of thing.' 



T don't know what induced me to take that crossing, except it 
was that no one was there, and the traffic was so good — fact 
is, the traffic is too good, and people won't stop as they cross 
over, they're very glad to get out of the way of the cabs and 
the omnibuses. 

'Tradespeople never give me anything — not even a bit of bread. 
The only thing I get is a few cuttings, such as crusts of sandwiches 

396 Mayhem's London 

and remains of cheese, from the public-house at the corner of the 
court. The tradespeople are as distant to me now as they were 
when I came, but if I should pitch up a tale I should soon get 
acquainted with them. 

'We have lived in this lodging two years and a half, and we 
pay one-and-ninepence a-week, as you may see from the rent-book, 
and that I manage to earn on Sundays. We owe four weeks now, 
and, thank God, it's no more. 

'I was born, sir, in street, Berkeley- square, at Lord 's 

house, when my mother was minding the house. I have been used 
to London all my life, but not to this part; I have always been at 
the west-end, which is what I call the best end. 

'I did not like the idea of crossing-sweeping at first, till I reas- 
oned with myself, Why should I mind? I'm not doing any hurt 
to anybody. I don't care at all now — I know I'm doing what 
I ought to do.' 


Passing the dreary portico of the Queen's Theatre, and turning to 
the right down Tottenham Mews, we came upon a flight of steps 
leading up to what is called 'The Gallery,' where an old man, 
gasping from the effects of a lung disease, and feebly polishing some 
old harness, proclaimed himself the father of the sweeper I was in 
search of, and ushered me into the room where he lay a-bed, having 
had a 'very bad night.' 

The room itself was large and of a low pitch, stretching over 
some stables; it was very old and creaky (the sweeper called it 'an 
old wilderness'), and contained, in addition to two turn-up bed- 
steads, that curious medley of articles which, in the course of years, 
an old and poor couple always manage to gather up. There was a 
large lithograph of a horse, dear to the remembrance of the old 
man from an indication of a dog in the corner. 'The very spit of 
the one I had for years; it's a real portrait, sir, for Mr. Hanbart, 
the printer, met me one day and sketched him.' There was an 
etching of Hogarth's in a black frame; a stuffed bird in a wooden 
case, with a glass before it; a piece of painted glass, hanging in a 
place of honour, but for which no name could be remembered, 
excepting that it was 'of the old-fashioned sort.' There were the 

Mayhew's London 39 7 

odd remnants, too, of old china ornaments, but very little furniture; 
and, finally, a kitten. 

The father, worn out and consumptive, had been groom to Lord 
Combermere. 'I was with him, sir, when he took Bonyparte's 
house at Malmasong. I could have had a pension then if I'd a 
liked, but I was young and foolish, and had plenty of money, and 
we never know what we may come to.' 

The sweeper, although a middle-aged man, had all the appear- 
ance of a boy — his raw-looking eyes, which he was always wiping 
with a piece of linen rag, gave him a forbidding expression, which 
his shapeless, short, bridgeless nose tended to increase. But his 
manners and habits were as simple in their character as those 
of a child; and he spoke of his father's being angry with him for 
not getting up before, as if he were a little boy talking of his nurse. 

He walks, with great difficulty, by the help of a crutch; and the 
sight of his weak eyes, his withered limb, and his broken shoulder 
(his old helpless mother, and his gasping, almost inaudible father), 
form a most painful subject for compassion. 

The crossing-sweeper gave me, with no little meekness and some 
slight intelligence, the following statement: — 

T very seldom go out on a crossin' o' Sundays. I didn't do much 
good at it. I used to go to church of a Sunday — in fact, I do now 
when I'm well enough. 

'It's fifteen year next January since I left Regent-street. I was 
there three years, and then I went on Sundays occasionally. Some- 
times I used to get a shilling, but I have given it up now — it didn't 
answer; besides, a lady who was kind to me found me out, and said 
she wouldn't do any more for me if I went out on Sundays. She's 
been dead these three or four years now. 

'When I was at Regent-street I might have made twelve shillings 
a-week, or something thereabout. 

T am seven-and-thirty the 26th day of last month, and I have 
been lame six-twenty years. My eyes have been bad ever since 
my birth. 

T went on the crossing first because my parents couldn't keep 
me, not being able to keep theirselves. I thought it was the best 
thing I could do, but it's like all other things, it's got very bad now. 
I used to manage to rub along at first — the streets have got shockin' 
bad of late. 

39 8 Mayhew^s London 

'I am dreadful tired when I comes home of a night. Thank God 
my other leg's all right! I wish the t'other was as strong, but it 
never will be now. 

'The police never try to turn me away; they're very friendly, 
they'll pass the time of day with me, or that, froni knowing me so 
long in Oxford-street. 

'My broom sometimes serves me a month; of course, they don't 
last long now it's showery weather. I give twopence- halfpenny 
a piece for 'em, or threepence. 

'I don't know who gives me the most; my eyes are so bad I can't 
see. I think, though, upon an average, the gentlemen give most. 

'Often I hear the children, as they are going by, ask their mothers 
for something to give to me; but they only say, "Come along — ■ 
come along!" It's very rare that they lets the children have a ha'- 
penny to give me.' 


This man sweeps a crossing in a principal and central thoroughfare 
when the weather is cold enough to let him walk; the colder the 
better, he says, as it 'numbs his stumps like.' He is unable to follow 
this occupation in warm weather, as his legs feel 'just like corns,' 
and he cannot walk more than a mile a-day. Under these circum- 
stances he takes to begging, which he thinks he has a perfect right 
to do, as he has been left destitute in what is to him almost a strange 
country, and has been denied what he terms 'his rights.' He general- 
ly sits while begging, dressed in a sailor shirt and trousers, with a 
black neckerchief round his neck, tied in the usual nautical knot. He 
places before him a placard and never moves a muscle for the pur- 
pose of soliciting charity. He always appears scrupulously clean. 
I went to see him at his house early one morning — in fact, at 
half-past eight, but he was not then up. I went again at nine, and 
found him prepared for my visit in a little parlour, in a dirty and 
rather disreputable alley running out of a court in a street near 
Brunswick-square. The negro's parlour was scantily furnished with 
two chairs, a turn-up bedstead, and a sea-chest. A few odds and 
ends of crockery stood on the sideboard, and a kettle was singing 
over a cheerful bit of fire. The little man was seated on a chair, 
with his stumps of legs sticking straight out. He showed some 

Mayhem's London 399 

amount of intelligence in answering my questions. We were quite 
alone, for he sent his wife and child — the former a pleasant-looking 
'half-caste,' and the latter the cheeriest little crowing, smiling 
'piccaninny' I have ever seen — he sent them out into the alley, 
while I conversed with himself. 

His life is embittered by the idea that he has never yet had 'his 
rights' — that the owners of the ship in which his legs were burnt 
off have not paid him his wages (of which, indeed, he says, he 
never received any but the five pounds which he had in advance 
before starting), and that he has been robbed of A21. by a grocer 
in Glasgow. How true these statements may be it is almost impos- 
sible to say, but from what he says, some injustice seems to have 
been done him by the canny Scotchman, who refuses him his 'pay,' 
without which he is determined 'never to leave the countrv.' 


A remarkably intelligent lad, who, on being spoken to, at once 
consented to give all the information in his power, told me the 
following story of his life. 

It will be seen from this boy's account, and the one or two follow- 
ing that a kind of partnership exists among some of these young 
sweepers. They have associated themselves together, appropriated 
several crossings to their use, and appointed a captain over them. 
They have their forms of trial, and 'jury-house' for the settlement 
of disputes; laws have been framed, which govern their commer- 
cial proceedings, and a kind of language adopted by the society for 
its better protection from the arch-enemy, the policeman. 

I found the lad who first gave me an insight into the proceedings 
of the associated crossing-sweepers crouched on the stone steps of a 
door in Adelaide-street, Strand; and when I spoke to him he was 
preparing to settle down in a corner and go to sleep — his legs and 
body being curled round almost as closely as those of a cat on a 
hearth. The moment he heard my voice he was upon his feet, asking 
me to 'give a halfpenny to poor little Jack.' 

He was a good-looking lad, with a pair of large mild eyes, which 
he took good care to turn up with an expression of supplication as 
he moaned for a halfpenny. 

400 Mayhew^s London 

A cap, or more properly a stuff bag, covered a crop of hair 
which had matted itself into the form of so many paint-brushes, 
while his face, from its roundness of feature and the complexion 
of dirt, had an almost Indian look about it; the colour of his 
hands, too, was such that you could imagine he had been shelling 

He ran before me, treading cautiously with his naked feet, until 
I reached a convenient spot to take down his statement, which was 
as follows: — 

'I've got no mother or father; mother has been dead for two 
years, and father's been gone for more than that — more nigh five 
years — he died at Ipswich, in Suffolk. He was a perfumer by trade, 
and used to make hair-dye, and scent, and pomatum, and all kinds 
of scents. He didn't keep a shop himself, but he used to serve them 
as did; he didn't hawk his goods about, neether, but had regular 
customers, what used to send him a letter, and then he'd take 
them what they wanted. Yes, he used to serve some good shops: 

there was H 's, of London Bridge, what's a large chemist's. 

He used to make a good deal of money, but he lost it betting; and 
so his brother, my uncle, did all his. He used to go up to High Park, 
and then go round by the Hospital, and then turn up a yard, where 
all the men are who play for money [Tattersall's]; and there he'd 
lose his money, or sometimes win, — but that wasn't often. I remem- 
ber he used to come home tipsy, and say he'd lost on this or that 
horse, naming wot one he'd laid on; and then mother would coax 
him to bed, and afterwards sit down and begin to cry. 

'Ah! she was a very good, kind mother, and very fond of both 
of us; though father wasn't, for he'd always have a noise with 
mother when he come home, only he was seldom with us when he 
was making his goods. 

'After mother died, sister still kept on making nets, and I lived 
with her for some time. But she was keeping company with a 
young man, and one day they went out, and came back and said 
they'd been and got married. It was him as got rid of me. 

'He was kind to me for the first two or three months, while he 
was keeping her company; but before he was married he got a little 
cross, and after he was married he begun to get more cross, and 
used to send me to play in the streets, and tell me not to come home 
again till night. One day he hit me, and I said I wouldn't be hit 

31 ay hew' s London 401 

about by him, and then at tea that night sister gave me three 
shillings, and told me I must go and get my own living. So I bought 
a box and brushes (they cost me just the money) and went cleaning 
boots, and I done pretty well with them, till my box was stole from 
me by a boy where I was lodging. He's in prison now — got six 
calendar for picking pockets. 

'I was fifteen the 24th of last May, sir, and I've been sweeping 
crossings now near upon two years. There's a party of six of us, 
and we have the crossings from St. Martin's Church as far as Pall 
Mall. I always go along with them as lodges in the same place as 
I do. In the daytime, if it's dry, we do anythink what we can — 
open cabs, or anythink; but if it's wet, we separate, and I an' 
another gets a crossing — those who gets on it first, keeps it, — and 
we stand on each side and take our chance. 

'We do it this way: — if I was to see two gentlemen coming, 
I should cry out, "Two toffs!" and then they are mine; and whether 
they give me anythink or not they are mine, and my mate is bound 
not to follow them; for if he did he would get a hiding from the 
whole lot of us. If we both cry out together, then we share. If it's 
a lady and a gentleman, then we cries, "A toff and a doll!" Some- 
times we are caught out in this way. Perhaps it is a lady and 
gentleman and a child; and if I was to see them, and only say, "A 
toff and a doll," and leave out the child, then my mate can add the 
child; and as he is right and I wrong, then it's his party. 

'When we see the rain we say together, "Oh! there's a jolly good 
rain! we'll have a good day to-morrow." If a shower comes on, 
and we are at our room, which we general are about three o'clock, 
to get somethink to eat — besides, we general go there to see how 
much each other's taken in the day — why, out we run with our 

'At night-time we tumbles — that is, if the policeman ain't nigh. 
We goes general to Waterloo-place when the Opera's on. We 
sends on one of us ahead, as a looker-out, to look for the policeman, 
and then we follows. It's no good tumbling to gentlemen going to 
the Opera; it's when they're coming back they gives us money. 
When they've got a young lady on their arm they laugh at us 
tumbling; some will give us a penny, others threepence, sometimes 
a sixpence or a shilling, and sometimes a halfpenny. We either do 
the cat'unwhell, or else we keep before the gentleman and lady, 

402 Maylnew's London 

turning head-over-heels, putting our broom on the ground and 
then turning over it. 

'After the Opera we go into the Hay market, where all the women 
are who walk the streets all night. They don't give us no money, 
but they tell the gentlemen to. Sometimes, when they are talking 
to the gentlemen, they say, "Go away, you young rascal!" and if 
they are saucy, then we say to them, "We're not talking to you, 
my doxy, we're talking to the gentleman," — but that's only if 
they're rude, for if they speak civil we always goes. They knows 
what "doxy" means. What is it? Why that they are no better than 
us! If we are on the crossing, and we says to them as they go by, 
"Good luck to you!" they always give us somethink either that 
night or the next. There are two with bloomer bonnets, who always 
give us somethink if we says "Good luck." 

'When we are talking together we always talk in a kind of slang. 
Each policeman we gives a regular name — there's "Bull's Head," 
"Bandy Shanks," and "Old Cherry Legs," and "Dot-and-carry- 
one;" they all knows their names as well as us. We never talks of 
crossings, but "fakes." We don't make no slang of our own, but 
uses the regular one. 

'A broom doesn't last us more than a week in wet weather, and 
they costs us twopence halfpenny each; but in dry weather they 
are good a fortnight.' 


The next lad I examined was called Mike. He was a short, stout- 
set youth, with a face like an old man's, for the features were hard 
and defined, and the hollows had got filled up with dirt till his 
countenance was brown as an old wood carving. I have seldom 
seen so dirty a face, for the boy had been in a perspiration, and then 
wiped his cheeks, with his muddy hands, until they were marbled, 
like the covering to a copy-book. 

The old lady of the house in which the boy lived seemed to be 
hurt by the unwashed appearance of her lodger. 'You ought to 
be ashamed of yourself — and that's God's truth — not to go and 
sluice yourself afore spaking to the jintlemin,' she cried, looking 
alternately at me and the lad, as if asking me to witness her in- 

Mike wore no shoes, but his feet were as black as if cased in 

MayhevSs London 403 

gloves with short ringers. His coat had been a man's, and the tails 
reached to his ankles; one of the sleeves was wanting, and a dirty 
rag had been wound round the arm in its stead. His hair spread 
about like a tuft of grass where a rabbit has been squatting. 


Gander, the captain of the gang of boy crossing-sweepers, was a 
big lad of sixteen, with a face devoid of all expression, until he 
laughed, when the cheeks, mouth, and forehead instantly became 
crumpled up with a wonderful quantit}^ of lines and dimples. His 
hair was cut short, and stood up in all directions, like the bristles 
of a hearth-broom, and was a light dust tint, matching with the 
hue of his complexion, which also, from an absence of washing, 
had turned to a decided drab, or what house-painters term a stone- 

He spoke with a lisp, occasioned by the loss of two of his large 
front teeth, which allowed the tongue as he talked to appear 
through the opening in a round nob like a raspberry. 

The boy's clothing was in a shocking condition. He had no coat, 
and his blue-striped shirt was as dirty as a French-polisher's rags, 
and so tattered, that the shoulder was completely bare, while the 
sleeve hung down over the hand like a big bag. 

From the fish-scales on the sleeves of his coat, it had evidently 
once belonged to some coster in the herring line. The nap was all 
worn off, so that the linos of the web were showing a coarse carpet; 
and instead of buttons, string had been passed through holes 
pierced at the side. 

Of course he had no shoes on, and his black trousers, which, with 
the grease on them, were gradually assuming a tarpaulin look, were 
fastened over one shoulder by means of a brace and bits of string. 

During his statement, he illustrated his account of the tumbling 
backwards — the 'eaten wheeling' — with different specimens of the 
art, throwing himself about on the floor with an ease and almost 
grace, and taking up BO small a space of the ground for the per- 
formance, that his limbs seemed to bend as though his bones were 
flexible like cane. 

'To tell you the blessed truth, I can't say the last shilling I 

404 Mayhew's London 

'Don't you go a-believing on him,' whispered another lad in my 
ear, whilst Gander's head was turned: 'he took thirteenpence last 
night, he did.' 


The young sweeper who had been styled by his companions the 
'King' was a pretty-looking boy, only tall enough to rest his 
chin comfortably on the mantel-piece as he talked to me, and with 
a pair of grey eyes that were as bright and clear as drops of sea- 
water. He was clad in a style in no way agreeing with his royal 
title; for he had on a kind of dirt-coloured shooting-coat of tweed, 
which was fraying into a kind of cobweb at the edges and elbows. 
His trousers, too, were rather faulty, for there was a pink-wrinkled 
dot of flesh at one of the knees; while their length was too great 
for his majesty's short legs, so that they had to be rolled up at the 
end like a washer-woman's sleeves. 

His royal highness was of a restless disposition, and, whilst 
talking, lifted up, one after another, the different ornaments on the 
mantel-piece, frowning and looking at them sideways, as he pon- 
dered over the replies he should make to my questions. 

When I arrived at the grandmother's apartment the 'king' was 
absent, his majesty having been sent with a pitcher to fetch some 

The 'king' also was kind enough to favour me with samples of 
his wondrous tumbling powers. He could bend his little legs round 
till they curved like the long German sausages we see in the ham- 
and-beef shops; and when he turned head over heels, he curled up 
his tiny body as closely as a wood-louse, and then rolled along, 
wabbling like an egg. 

'The boys call me Johnny,' he said; 'and I'm getting on for 
eleven, and I goes with the Goose and Harry, a-sweeping at 
St. Martin's Church, and about there. I used, too, to go to the 
crossing where the statute is, sir, at the bottom of the Haymarket. 
I went along with the others; sometimes there were three or four 
of us, or sometimes one, sir. I never used to sweep unless it was wet. 
I don't go out not before twelve or one in the day; it ain't no use 
going before that; and beside, I couldn't get up before that, I'm 
too sleepy. I don't stop out so late as the other boys; they some- 

Mayhew's London 405 

times stop all night, but I don't like that. The Goose was out all 
night along with Martin; they went all along up Piccirilly, and 
there they climbed over the Park railings and went a birding all 
by themselves, and then they went to sleep for an hour on the 
grass — so they says. I likes better to come home to my bed. It kills 
me for the next day when I do stop out all night. The Goose is 
always out all night; he likes it.' 


I was anxious to see the room in which the gang of boy crossing- 
sweepers lived, so that I might judge of their peculiar style of 
house-keeping, and form some notion of their principles of domestic 

I asked young Harry and 'the Goose' to conduct me to their 
lodgings, and they at once consented, 'the Goose' prefacing his 
compliance with the remark, that 'it wern't such as genilmen had 
been accustomed to, but then I must take 'em as they was.' 

The boys led me in the direction of Drury-lane; and before 
entering one of the narrow streets which branch off like the side- 
bones of a fish's spine from that long thoroughfare, they thought 
fit to caution me that I was not to be frightened, as nobody would 
touch me, for all was very civil. 

The locality consisted of one of those narrow streets which, 
were it not for the paved cartway in the centre, would be called a 
court. Seated on the pavement at each side of the entrance was 
a costerwoman with her basket before her, and her legs tucked up 
mysteriously under her gown into a round ball, so that her figure 
resembled in shape the plaster tumblers sold by the Italians. These 
women remained as inanimate as if they had been carved images, 
and it was only when a passenger went by they gave signs of life, 
by calling out in a low voice, like talking to themselves, 'Two for 
three haarpence — herrens,' — 'Fine hinguns.' 

The street itself is like the description given of thoroughfares in 
the East. Opposite neighbours could not exactly shake hands out 
of window, but they could talk together very comfortably; and, 
indeed, as I passed along, I observed several women with then- 
arms folded like a cat's paws on the sill, and chatting with their 
friends over the way. 

Nearly all the inhabitants were costermongers, and. indeed, 

406 Mayhew's London 

the narrow cartway seemed to have been made just wide enough 
for a truck to wheel down it. A beershop and a general store, 
together with a couple of sweeps, — whose residences were distin- 
guished by a broom over the door, — formed the only exceptions to 
the street-selling class of inhabitants. 

As I entered the place, it gave me the notion that it belonged to 
a district coster colony, and formed one large hawkers' home; 
for everybody seemed to be doing just as he liked, and I was stared 
at as if considered an intruder. Women were seated on the pave- 
ment, knitting, and repairing their linen; the doorways were filled 
up with bonnetless girls, who wore their shawls over their head, 
as the Spanish women do their mantillas; and the youths in cor- 
duroy and brass buttons, who were chatting with them, leant 
against the walls as they smoked their pipes, and blocked up the 
pavement, as if they were the proprietors of the place. Little 
children formed a convenient bench out of the kerbstone; and a 
party of four men were seated on the footway, playing with cards 
which had turned to the colour of brown paper from long usage, 
and marking the points with chalk upon the flags. 

The parlour-windows of the houses had all of them wooden 
shutters, as thick and clumsy-looking as a kitchen flap-table, the 
paint of which had turned to the dull dirt-colour of an old slate. 
Some of these shutters were evidently never used as a security for 
the dwelling, but served only as tables on which to chalk the 
accounts of the day's sales. 

Before most of the doors were costermongers' trucks — some 
standing ready to be wheeled off, and others stained and muddy 
with the day's work. A few of the costers were dressing up their' 
barrows, arranging the sieves of waxy-looking potatoes — and 
others taking the stiff herrings, browned like a meerschaum with 
the smoke they had been dried in, from the barrels beside them, 
and spacing them out in pennyworths on their trays. 

You might guess what each costermonger had taken out that 
day by the heap of refuse swept into the street before the doors. 
One house had a blue mound of mussel-shells in front of it — 
another, a pile of the outside leaves of broccoli and cabbages, 
turning yellow and slimy with bruises and moisture. 

Hanging up beside some of the doors were budles of old straw- 
berry pottles, stained red with the fruit. Over the trap-doors to the 

Mayheiv's London 407 

cellars were piles of market-gardeners' sieves, ruddled like a sheep's 
back with big red letters. In fact, everything that met the eye 
seemed to be in some way connected with the coster's trade. 

From the windows poles stretched out, on which blankets, petti- 
coats, and linen were drying; and so numerous were they, that they 
reminded me of the flags hung out at a Paris fete. Some of the 
sheets had patches as big as trap-doors let into their centres; and 
the blankets were — many of them — as full of holes as a pigeon- 

As I entered the court, a 'row' was going on; and from a first- 
floor window a lady, whose hair sadly wanted brushing, was 
haranguing a crowd beneath, throwing her arms about like a 
drowning man, and in her excitement thrusting her body half 
out of her temporary rostrum as energetically as I have seen Punch 
lean over his theatre. 

'The willin dragged her,' she shouted, 'by the hair of her head, 
at least three yards into the court — the willin! and then he kicked 
her, and the blood was on his boot.' 

It was a sweep who had been behaving in this cowardly manner; 
but still he had his defenders in the women around him. One with 
very shiny hair, and an Indian kerchief round her neck, answered 

the lady in the window, by calling her a 'd dold cat;' whilst 

the sweep's wife rushed about, clapping her hands together as 
quickly as if she was applauding at a theatre, and stjded somebody 
or other 'an old wagabones as she wouldn't dirty her hands to 
fight with.' 

This 'row' had the effect of drawing all the lodgers to the 
windows — their heads popping out as suddenly as dogs from their 
kennels in a fancier's yard. 


The room where the boj's lodged was scercely bigger than a coach- 
house; and so low was the ceiling, that a fly-paper suspended from 
a clothes-line was on a level with my head, and had to be carefully 
avoided when I moved about., 

One corner of the apartment was completely filled up by a big 
four-post bedstead, which fitted into a kind of recess as perfectly 
as if it had been built to order. 

The old woman who kept this lodging had endeavoured to give 

408 Mayhem? s London 

it a homely look of comfort, by hanging little black-framed pictures 
scarcely bigger than pocket-books, on the walls. Most of these were 
sacred subjects, with large yellow glories round the heads; though 
between the drawing representing the bleeding heart of Christ, 
and the Saviour bearing the Cross, was an illustration of a red- 
waistcoated sailor smoking his pipe. The Adoration of the Shep- 
herds, again, was matched on the other side of the fireplace by a 
portrait of Daniel O'Connell. 

A chest of drawers was covered over with a green baize cloth, 
on which books, shelves, and clean glasses were tidily set out. 

Where so many persons (for there were about eight of them, 
including the landlady, her daughter, and grandson) could all 
sleep, puzzled me extremely. 

The landlady wore a frilled nightcap, which fitted so closely to 
the skull, that it was evident she had lost her hair. One of her eyes 
was slowly recovering from a blow, which, to use her own words, 
'a blackgeyard gave her.' Her lip, too, had suffered in the encounter, 
for it was swollen and cut. 

'I've a nice flock-bid for the boys,' she said, when I inquired 
into the accommodation of her lodging-house, 'where three of 
them can slape aisy and comfortable.' 

'It's a large bed, sir,' said one of the boys, 'and a warm covering 
over us; and you see it's better than a regular lodging-house; for, 
if you want a knife or a cup, you don't have to leave something on 
it till it's returned.' 

The old woman spoke up for her lodgers, telling me that they 
were good boys, and very honest; 'for,' she added, 'they pays me 
rig-lar ivery night, which is threepence.' 

The only youth as to whose morals she seemed to be at all doubt- 
ful was 'the Goose,' 'for he kept late hours, and sometimes came 
home without a penny in his pocket.' 


A little girl, who worked by herself at her own crossing, gave me 
some curious information on the subject. 

This child had a peculiarly flat face, with a button of a nose, 
while her month was scarcely larger than a button-hole. When she 
spoke, there was not the slightest expression visible in her features; 

Mayhem's London 409 

indeed, one might have fancied she wore a mask and was talking 
behind it; but her eyes were shining the while as brightly as those 
of a person in a fever, and kept moving about, restless with her 
timidity. The green frock she wore was fastened close to the neck, 
and was turning into a kind of mould}' tint; she also wore a black 
stuff apron, stained with big patches of gruel, 'from feeding baby 
at home,' as she said. Her hair was tidily dressed, being drawn 
tightly back from the forehead, like the buy-a-broom girls; and 
as she stood with her hands thrust up her sleeves, she curtseyed 
each time before answering, bobbing down like a float, as though 
the floor under her had suddenly given way. 

'I'm twelve years old, please, sir, and my name is Margaret 

R , and I sweep a crossing in New Oxford-street, by Dunn's 

passage, just facing Moses and Sons', sir; by the Catholic school, 
sir. Mother's been dead these two year, sir, and father's a working 
cutler, sir; and I lives with him, but he don't get much to do, and 
so I'm obligated to help him, doing what I can, sir. Since mother's 
been dead, I've had to mind my little brother and sister, so that 
I haven't been to school; but when I goes a crossing- sweeping I 
takes them along with me, and they sits on the steps close by, sir. 
If it's wet I has to stop at home and take care of them, for father 
depends upon me for looking after them. Sister's three and a-half 
year old, and brother's five year, so he's just beginning to help 
me, sir. I hope he'll get something better than a crossing when he 
grows up. 

'First of all I used to go singing songs in the streets, sir. It was 
when father had no work, so he stopped at home and looked after 
the children. I used to sing the "Red, White, and Blue," and 
"Mother, is the Battle over?" and "The Gipsy Girl," and sometimes 
I'd get fourpence or fivepence, and sometimes I'd have a chance 
of making ninepence, sir. Sometimes, though, I'd take a shilling 
of a Saturday night in the markets. 

'At last the songs grew so stale people wouldn't listen to them, 
and, as I carn't read, I couldn't learn any more, sir. My big brother 
and father used to learn me some, but I never could get enough 
out of them for the streets; besides, father was out of work still 
and we couldn't get money enough to buy ballads w ith, and it's no 
good singing without having them to sell. We live over there, sir, 
(pointing to a window on the other side of the narrow street). 

410 Mayheiv^s London 

'The notion come into my head all of itself to sweep crossings, 
sir. As I used to go up Regent-street I used to see men and women, 
and girls and boys, sweeping, and the people giving them money, 
so I thought I'd do the same thing. That's how it come about. 
Just now the weather is so dry, I don't go to my crossing, but goes 
out singing. I've learnt some new songs, such as "The Queen of 
the Navy for ever," and "The Widow's Last Prayer," which is 
about the wars. I only go sweeping in wet weather, because then's 
the best time. When I am there, there's some ladies and gentlemen 
as gives to me regular. I knows them by sight; and there's a beer- 
shop where they give me some bread and cheese whenever 
I go. 

T generally takes about sixpence, or sevenpence, or eightpence 
on the crossing, from about nine o'clock in the morning till four in 
the evening, when I come home. I don't stop out at nights because 
father won't let me, and I'm got to be home to see to baby. 

'My broom costs me twopence ha'penny, and in wet weather it 
lasts a week, but in dry weather we seldom uses it. 

'When I sees the buses and carriages coming I stands on the 
side, for I'm afeard of being runned over. In winter I goes out and 
cleans ladies' doors, general about Lincoln's-inn, for the house- 
keepers. I gets twopence a door, but it takes a long time when the 
ice is hardened, so that I carn't do only about two or three. 

"I carn't tell whether I shall always stop at sweeping, but I've 
no clothes, and so I carn't get a situation; for, though I'm small 
and young, yet I could do housework, such as cleaning. 

'No, sir, there's no gang on my crossing — I'm all alone. If 
another girl or boy was to come and take it when I'm not there, 
I should stop on it as well as him or her, and go shares with 'em.' 


I was told that a little girl formed one of the association of young 
sweepers, and at my request one of the boys went to fetch her. 
She was a clean-washed little thing, with a pretty, expressive 
countenance, and each time she was asked a question she frowned, 
like a baby in its sleep, while thinking of the answer. In her ears 
she wore instead of rings loops of string, 'which the doctor had 
put there because her sight was wrong.' A cotton velvet bonnet, 
scarcely larger than the sun-shades worn at the sea-side, hung on 

Mayheitfs London 411 

her shoulders, leaving exposed her head, with the hair as rough as 
tow. Her green stuff gown was hanging in tatters, with long three- 
cornered rents as large as penny kites, showing the grey lining 
underneath; and her mantle was separated into so many pieces, 
that it was only held together by the braiding at the edge. 

As she conversed with me, she played with the strings of her 
bonnet, rolling them up as if curling them, on her singularly small 
and also singularly dirty fingers. 

'I'll be fourteen, sir, a fortnight before next Christmas. I was 
born in Liquorpond-street, Gray's Inn-lane. Father come over 
from Ireland, and was a bricklayer. He had pains in his limbs and 
wasn't strong enough, so he give it over. He's dead now, — been 
dead a long time, sir. I was a littler girl then than I am now, for 
I wasn't above eleven at that time. I lived with mother after father 
died. She used to sell things in the streets — yes, sir, she was a coster. 
About a twelvemonth after father's death, mother was taken bad 
with the cholera, and died. I then went along with both grand- 
mother and grandfather, who was a porter in Newgate Market; 
I stopped there until I got a place as servant of all-work. I was 
only turned, just turned, eleven then. I worked along with a French 
lady and gentleman in Hatton Garden, who used to give me a 
shilling a-week and my tea. I used to go home to grandmother's 
to dinner every day. I hadn't to do any work, only just to clean the 
room and nuss the child. It was a nice little thing. I couldn't 
understand what the French people used to say, but there was 
a boy working there, and he used to explain to me what they 

'I left them because they was going to a place called Italy — 
perhaps you may have heard tell of it, sir. Well, I suppose they 
must have been Italians, but we calls everybody, whose talk we 
don't understand, French. I went back to grandmother's, but, 
after grandfather died, she couldn't keep me, and so I went out 
begging — she sent me. I carried lucifer-matches and stay-laces fust. 
I used to carry about a dozen laces, and perhaps I'd sell six out 
of them. I suppose I used to make about sixpence a-day, and I 
used to take it home to grandmother, who kept and fed me. 

'At last, finding I didn't get much at begging, I thought I'd 
go crossing-sweeping. I saw other children doing it. I says to 1113'self, 
"I'll go and buy a broom," and I spoke to another little girl, who 

412 Mayhem's London 

was sweeping up Holborn, who told me what I was to do. "But," 
says she, "don't come and cut up me." 

'I went fust to Holborn, near to home, at the end of Red Lion- 
street. Then I was frightened of the cabs and carriages, but I'd 
get there early, about eight o'clock, and sweep the crossing clean 
and I'd stand at the side on the pavement, and speak to the gentle- 
men and ladies before they crossed. 

'There was a couple of boys, sweepers at the same crossing 
before I went there. I went to them and asked if I might come and 
sweep there too, and they said Yes, if I would give them some of 
the halfpence I got. These was boys about as old as I was, and they 
said, if I earned sixpence, I was to give them twopence a-piece; 
but they never give me nothink of theirs. I never took more than 
sixpence, and out of that I had to give fourpence, so that I did not 
do so sell as with the laces. 

'The crossings made my hands sore with the sweeping, and, as 
I got so little, I thought I'd try somewhere else. Then I got right 
down to the Fountings in Trafalgar-square, by the crossing at the 
statey on 'orseback. There were a good many boys and girls on 
that crossing at the time — five of them; so I went along with them. 

'When I fust went they said, "Here's another fresh 'un." They 
come up to me and says, "Are you going to sweep here?" and I 
says "Yes;" and they says, "You mustn't come here, there's too 
many;" and I says, "They're different ones every day," — for 
they're not regular there, but shift about, sometimes one lot of 
boys and girls, and the next day another. They didn't say another 
word to me, and so I stopped. 

'It's a capital crossing, but there's so many of us, it spiles it. 
I seldom gets more than sevenpence a-day, which I always takes 
home to grandmother. 

'I've been on that crossing about three months. They alwaj^s 
calls me Ellen, my regular name, and behaves very well to me. 
If I see anybody coming, I call them out as the boys does, and then 
they are mine. 

'There's a boy and myself, and another strange girl, works on 
our side of the statey, and another lot of boys and girls on the 

'I like Saturdays the best day of the week, because that's the 
time as gentlemen as has been at work has their money, and then 

Mayhew's London 413 

they are more generous. I gets more then, perhaps ninepence, but 
not quite a shilling, on the Saturday. 

'I've had a therepenny-bit give to me, but never sixpence. It 
was a gentleman, and I should know him again. Ladies gives me 
less than gentlemen. I foller 'em, saying, "If you please, sir, give a 
poor girl a halfpemry;" but if the police are looking, I stop still. 

'I never goes out on Sunday, but stops at home with grand- 
mother. I don't stop out at nights like the boys, but I gets home by 
ten at latest.' 


In 'the Brill,' or rather in Brill-place, Somers'-town, there is a 
variety of courts branching out into Chapel-street, and in one of 
the most angular and obscure of these is to be found a perfect nest 
of rat-catchers — not altogether professional rat-catchers, but for 
the most part sporting mechanics and coster mongers. The court 
is not easily to be found, being inhabited by men not so well known 
in the immediate neighbourhood as perhaps a mile or two away, 
and only to be discovered by the aid and direction of the little girl 
at the neighbouring cat's-meat shop. 

My first experience of this court was the usual disturbance at 
the entrance. I found one end or branch of it filled with a mob of 
eager listeners, principally women, all attracted to a particular 
house by the sounds of quarrelling. One man gave it as his opinion 
that the disturbers must have earned too much money yesterday; 
and a woman, speaking to another who had just come out, lifting 
up both her hands and laughing, said, 'Here they are — at it again!' 

The rat-killer whom we were in search of was out at his stall in 
Chapel-street when we called, but his wife soon fetched him. He 
was a strong, sturdy-looking man, rather above the middle height, 
with light hair, ending in sandy whiskers, reaching under his chin, 
sharp deep-set eyes, a tight-skinned nose that looked as if the 
cuticle had been stretched to its utmost on its bridge. He was 
dressed in the ordinary corduroy costermonger habit, having, in 
addition, a dark blue Guernsey drawn over his waistcoat. 

The man's first anxiety was to show us that rats were not his 
only diversion; and in consequence he took us into the yard of 
the house, where in a shed lay a bull-dog, a bull-bitch, and a 
litter of pups just a week old. They did not belong to him, but 

414 Mayheitfs London 

he said he did a good deal in the way of curing dogs when 
he could get 'em. 

After I had satisfied him that I was not a collector of dog-tax, 
trying to find out how many animals he kept, he gave me what he 
evidently thought was 'a treat' — a peep at his bull-dog, which 
he fetched from upstairs, and let it jump about the room with a 
most unpleasant liberty, informing me the while how he had given 
five pounds for him, and that one of the first pups he got by a bull 
he had got five pounds for, and that cleared him. 'That Punch' 
(the bull-dog's name), he said, 'is as quiet as a lamb — wouldn't 
hurt nobody; I frequently takes him through the streets without 
a lead. Sartainly he killed a cat the t'other afternoon, but he 
couldn't help that, 'cause the cat flew at him; though he took it as 
quietly as a man would a woman in a passion, and only went at 
her just to save his eyes. But you couldn't easy get him off, master, 
when he once got a holt. He was a good one for rats, and, he 
believed, the stanchest and trickiest dog in London.' 

When he had taken the brute upstairs, for which I was not a 
little thankful, the man made the following statement: — 

T a'n't a Londoner. I've travelled all about the country. I'm 
a native of Iver, in Buckinghamshire. I've been three year here 
in London altogether up to last September. 

'Before I come to London I was nothink, sir — a labouring man, 
an eshkewator. I come to London the same as the rest, to do any- 
think I could. I was at work at the eshkewations at King's Cross 
Station. I work as hard as any man in London, I think. 

'When the station was finished, I, having a large family, thought 
I'd do the best I could, so I went to the foreman at the Caledonian 
Sawmills. I stopped there a twelve-month; but one day I went 
for a load and a-half of lime, and where you fetches a load and 
a-half of lime they always gives you fourpence. So as I was having 
a pint of beer out of it, my master come by and saw me drinking, 
and give me the sack. Then he wanted me to ax his pardon, and I 
might stop; but I told him I wouldn't beg no one's pardon for 
drinking a pint of beer as was give me. So I left there. 

'Ever since the Great Western was begun, my family has been 
distributed all over the country, wherever there was a railway 
making. My brothers were contractors for Peto, and I generally 
worked for my brothers; but they've gone to America, and taken 

Mayhew's London 415 

a contract for a railway at St. John's, New Brunswick, British 
North America. I can do anything in the eshkewating way — I don't 
care what it is. 

'After I left the Caledonian Sawmills I went to Billingsgate, and 
bought anythink I could see a chance of gettin' a shilling out on, 
or to'ards keeping my family. 

'All my lifetime I've been a-dealing a little in rats; but it was 
not till I come to London that I turned my mind fully to that sort 
of thing. My father always had a great notion of the same. We 
all like the sport. When any of us was in the country, and the 
farmers wanted us to, we'd do it. If anybody heerd tell of my being 
an activish chap like, in that sort of way, they'd get me to come 
for a day or so. 

'If anybody has a place that's eaten up with rats, I goes and 
gets some ferruts, and takes a dog, if I've got one, and manages to 
kill 'em. Sometimes I keep my own ferruts, but mostly I borrows 
them. This } 7 oung man that's with me, he'll sometimes have an 
order to go fifty or sixty mile into the country, and then he buys 
his ferruts, or gets them the best way he can. They charges a 
good sum for the loan of 'em — sometimes as much as you get for 
the job. 

'You can buy ferruts at Leadenhall-market for 5s or 7s. — it 
all depends; you can't get them all at one price, some of 'em is real 
cowards to what others is; some won't even kill a rat. The way we 
tries 'em is, we puts 'em down anywhere, in a room maybe, with a 
rat, and if they smell about and won't go up to it, why they won't 
do; 'cause you see, sometimes the ferrut has to go up a hole, and 
at the end there may be a dozen or sixteen rats, and if he hasn't 
got the heart to tackle one on 'em, why he ain't worth a farden. 

'I have kept ferruts for four or five months at a time, but they're 
nasty stinking things. I've had them get loose; but, bless you, they 
do no harm, they're as hinnoccnt as cats; they won't hurt nothink; 
you can play with them like a kitten. Sonic puts tilings down to 
ketch rats — sorts of pison, which is their secret — but I don't. 1 
relies upon my dogs and ferruts, and nothink else. 

'I went to destroy a few rats up at Russell-square; their was a 
shore come right along, and a few holes — they was swarmed with 
'em there — and didn't know how it was; but the cleverest men in 
the world couldn't ketch many there, 'cause you see, master, they 

416 Mayhew's London 

run down the hole into the shore, and no dog could get through 
a rat- hole. 

'I coldn't get my living, though, at that business. If any gentle- 
man comes to me and says he wants a dog cured, or a few rats 
destroyed, I does it. 

'In the country they give you fourpence a rat, and you can kill 
sometimes as many in a farmyard as you can in London. The most 
I ever got for destroying rats was four bob, and then I filled up the 
brickwork and made the holes good, and there was no more come. 

'I calls myself a coster; some calls theirselves general dealers, 
but I doesn't. I goes to market, and if one thing don't suit, why I 
buys another. 

'I don't know whether you've heerd of it, master, or not, but 
I'm the man as they say kills rats — that's to say, I kills 'em like a 
dog. I'm almost ashamed to mention it, and I shall never do it 
any more, but I've killed rats for a wager often. You see it's only 
been done like for a lark; we've bin all together daring one another, 
and trying to do something nobody else could. I remember the 

first time I did it for a wager, it was up at , where they've 

got a pit. There was a bull-dog a killing rats, so I says. 

1 "Oh, that's a duffin' dog; any dog could kill quicker than him. 
I'd kill again him myself." 

'Well, then they chaffed me, and I warn't goin' to be done; so 
I says, 

' "I'll kill again that dog for a sov'rin." 

'The sov'rin was staked. I went down to kill eight rats again the 
dog, and I beat him. I killed 'em like a dog, with my teeth. I went 
down hands and knees and bit 'em. I've done it three times for 
a sov'rin, and I've won each time. I feels very much ashamed of 
it, though. 

'On the hind part of my neck, as you may see, sir, there's a 
scar; that's where I was bit by one; the rat twisted himself round 
and held on like a vice. It was very bad, sir, for a long time; it 
festered, and broke out once or twice, but it's all right now.' 


Considekino the immense number of rats which form an article 
of commerce with many of the lower orders, whose business it is to 

Mayhew^s London 417 

keep them for the purpose of rat matches, I thought it necessary, 
for the full elucidation of my subject, to visit the well-known 
public-house in London, where, on a certain night in the week, a pit 
is built up, and regular rat-killing matches take place, and where 
those who have sporting dogs, and are anxious to test their qual- 
ities, can, after such matches are finished, purchase half a dozen or 
a dozen rats for them to practise upon, and judge for themselves 
of their dogs' 'performances.' 

To quote the words printed on the proprietor's card, 'he is 
always at his old house at home, as usual, to discuss the fancy 

I arrived at about eight o'clock at the tavern where the per- 
formances were to take place. I was too early, but there was plenty 
to occupy my leisure in looking at the curious scene around me, 
and making notes of the habits and conversation of the customers 
who were flocking in. 

The front of the long bar was crowded with men of every grade 
of society, all smoking, drinking, and talking about dogs. Many of 
them had brought with them their 'fancy' animals, so that a kind 
of 'canine exhibition' was going on; some carried under their arm 
small bull-dogs, whose flat pink noses rubbed against my arm as 
I passed; others had Skye-terriers, curled up like balls of hair, and 
sleeping like children, as they were nursed by their owners. The 
only animals that seemed awake, and under continual excitement, 
were the little brown English terriers, who, despite the neat black 
leathern collars by which they were held, struggled to get loose, 
as if they smelt the rats in the room above, and were impatient to 
begin the fray. 

There is a business-like look about this tavern which at once lets 
you into the character of the person who owns it. The drinking 
seems to have been a secondary notion in its formation, for it is a 
low-roofed room without any of those adornments which are now 
generally considered so necessary to render a public-house attrac- 
tive. The tubs where the spirits are kept are blistered with the 
heat of the gas, and so dirty that the once brilliant gilt hoops aro 
now quite black. 

Sleeping on an old hall-chair lay an enormous white bulldog, 
'a great beauty,' as I was informed, with a head as round and 
smooth as a clenched boxing-glove, and seemingly too large for 

418 Mayhew^s London 

the body. Its forehead appeared to protrude in a manner significant 
of water on the brain, and almost overhung the short nose, through 
which the animal breathed heavily. When this dog, which was 
the admiration of all beholders, rose up, its legs were as bowed as 
a tailor's, leaving a peculiar pear-shaped opening between them, 
which, I was informed, was one of its points of beauty. It was a 
white dog, with a sore look, from its being peculiarly pink round 
the eyes, nose, and indeed at all the edges of its body. 

On the other side of the fire-place was a white bull-terrier dog, 
with a black patch over the eye, which gave him rather a dis- 
reputable look. This animal was watching the movements of the 
customers in front, and occasionally, when the entrance-door was 
swung back, would give a growl of inquiry as to what the fresh- 
comer wanted. The proprietor was kind enough to inform me, as 
he patted this animal's ribs, which showed like the hoops on a 
butter-firkin, that he considered there had been a 'little of the 
greyhound in some of his back generations.' 

About the walls there hung clusters of black leather collars 
adorned with brass rings and clasps, and pre-eminent was a silver 
dog-collar, which, from the conversation of those about me, I 
learnt was to be the prize in a rat-match to be 'killed for' in a 
fortnight's time. 

As the visitors poured in, they, at the request of the proprietor 
'not to block up the bar,' took their seats in the parlour, and, 
accompanied by a waiter, who kept shouting. 'Give your orders, 
gentlemen,' I entered the room. 

I found that, like the bar, no pains had been taken to render the 
room attractive to the customers, for, with the exception of the 
sporting pictures hung against the dingy paper, it was devoid of 
all adornment. Over the fire-place were square glazed boxes, in 
which were the stuffed forms of dogs famous in their day. Pre- 
eminent among the prints was that representing the 'Wonder 
Tiny, five pounds and a half in weight,' as he appeared killing 
200 rats. This engraving had a singular look, from its having been 
printed upon a silk handkerchief. Tiny had been a great favourite 
with the proprietor, and used to wear a lady's bracelet as a collar. 

Among the stuffed heads was one of a white bull-dog, with 
tremendous glass eyes sticking out, as if it had died in strangul- 
ation. The proprietor's son was kind enough to explain to me the 

Mayhew 's London 419 

qualities that had once belonged to this favourite. 'They've spoilt 
her in stuffing, sir,' he said; 'made her so short on the head; but 
she was the wonder of her day. There wasn't a dog in England as 
would come nigh her. There's her daughter,' he added, pointing to 
another head, something like that of a seal, 'but she wasn't reckoned 
half as handsome as her mother, though she was very much admired 
in her time. 

'That there is a dog,' he continued, pointing to one represented 
with a rat in its mouth, 'it was as good as any in England, though 
it's so small. I've seen her kill a dozen rats almost as big as herself, 
though they killed her at last; for sewer-rats are dreadful for giving 
dogs canker in the mouth, and she wore herself out with continually 
killing them, though we always rinsed her mouth out well with 
peppermint and water while she were at work. When rats bite they 
are poisonous, and an ulcer is formed, which we are obleeged to 
lance; that's what killed her.' 

The company assembled in 'the parlour' consisted of sporting 
men, or those who, from curiosity, had come to witness what a 
rat-match was like. Seated at the same table, talking together, 
were those dressed in the costermonger's suit of corduroy, soldiers 
with their uniforms carelessly unbuttoned, coachmen in their 
livery, and tradesmen who had slipped on their evening frock-coats, 
and run out from the shop to see the sport. 

The dogs belonging to the company were standing on the different 
tables, or tied to the legs of the forms, or sleeping in their owners' 
arms, and were in turn minutely criticised — their limbs being 
stretched out as if they were being felt for fractures, and their 
mouths looked into, as if a dentist were examining their teeth. 

Nearly all the little animals were marked with scars from bites. 
'Pity to bring him up to rat-killing,' said one, who had been 
admiring a fierce-looking bull-terrier, although he did not mention 
at the same time what line in life the little animal ought to pursue. 

At another table one man was declaring that his pet animal 
was the exact image of the celebrated rat-killing dog 'Billy,' at 
the same time pointing to the picture against the wall of that 
famous animal, 'as he performed his wonderful feat of killing 500 
rats in five minutes and a half.' 

There were amongst the visitors some French gentlemen, who 
had evidently witnessed nothing of the kind before; and whilst 

420 Mayhew's London 

they endeavoured to drink their hot gin and water, they made 
their interpreter translate to them the contents of a large placard 
hung upon a hatpeg, and headed — 

'Every Man has his Fancy. 

About nine o'clock the proprietor took the chair in the parlour, 
at the same time giving the order to 'shut up the shutters in the 
room above, and light up the pit.' This announcement seemed 
to rouse the spirits of the impatient assembly, and even the dogs 
tied to the legs of the tables ran out to the length of their leathern 
thongs, and their tails curled like eels, as if they understood the 
meaning of the words. 

'Why, that's the little champion,' said the proprietor, patting 
a dog with thighs like a grasshopper, and whose mouth opened 
back to its ears. 'Well, it is a beauty! I wish I could gammon you 
to take a "fiver" for it.' Then looking round the room, he added, 
'Well, gents, I'm glad to see you look so comfortable.' 

The performances of the evening were hurried on by the entering 
of a young gentleman, whom the waiters called 'Cap'an.' 

'Now, Jem, when is this match coming off?' the Captain asked 
impatiently; and despite the assurance that they were getting 
ready, he threatened to leave the place if kept waiting much longer. 
This young officer seemed to be a great 'fancier' of dogs, for he 
made the round of the room, handling each animal in its turn, 
feeling and squeezing its feet, and scrutinising its eyes and limbs 
with such minuteness, that the French gentlemen were forced to 
inquire who he was. 

There was no announcement that the room above was ready, 
though everybody seemed to understand it; for all rose at once, 
and mounting the broad wooden staircase, which led to what was 
once the 'drawing-room,' dropped their shillings into the hand 
of the proprietor, and entered the rat-killing apartment. 

'The pit,' as it is called, consists of a small circus, some six feet 
in diameter. It is about as large as a centre flower-bed, and is fitted 
with a high wooden rim that reaches to elbow height. Over it the 
branches of a gas lamp are arranged, which light up the white 
painted floor, and every part of the little arena. On one side of the 

Mayhew's London 4 2 1 

room is a recess, which the proprietor calls his 'private box,' and 
this apartment the Captain and his friend soon took possession 
of, whilst the audience generally clambered upon the tables and 
forms, or hung over the side of the pit itself. 

All the little dogs which the visitors had brought up with them 
were now squalling and barking, and struggling in their masters' 
arms, as if they were thoroughly acquainted with the uses of the 
pit; and when a rusty wire cage of rats, filled with the dark moving 
mass, was brought forward, the noise of the dogs was so great that 
the proprietor was obliged to shout out — 'Now, you that have dogs 
do make 'em shut up.' 

The Captain was the first to jump into the pit. A man wanted 
to sell him a bull-terrier, spotted like a fancy rabbit, and a dozen 
of rats the consequent order. 

The Captain preferred pulling the rats out of the cage himself, 
laying hold of them by their tails and jerking them into the arena. 
He was cautioned by one of the men not to let them bite him, for 
'believe me,' were the words, 'you'll never forget, Cap'an; these 
'ere are none of the cleanest.' 

Whilst the rats were being counted out, some of those that had 
been taken from the cage ran about the painted floor and climbed 
up the young officer's legs, making him shake them off and